Another Oil Spill as SELI 1 Shipwreck is blown up

The SELI 1 Shipwreck on Table View beach may seem minuscule in comparison to the gigantic Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but the effects are still being felt by the local wildlife and beach users since the ship crashed ashore in 2009. 

What was once an almost pristine environment has become a very hazardous place for some very rare and unique species.

On the 12th March 2013 the SA Navy blew up the remains of the ship in an attempt to remove this eyesore and environmental catastrophe. They managed to blow it into three pieces, and at the same time appear to have caused even more environmental carnage.
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What's left of the SELI 1 March 2013 ©s.d'ambrosia 2013

Another Oil Spill

Local eyewitness reports via social networking sites and other news media, suggest that a further oil spill has occurred, affecting a wide variety of wildlife, from 70+ oiled African Penguins, to a beached pod of Pilot whales, and many dead fish washing up on the beaches.
Full details of the extent of the environmental impact are still unclear.   

Motor Vessel SELI 1

The Panamanian registered MV SELI 1 ran into serious trouble while laying at anchor in Table Bay, Cape Town, South Africa. 

They dropped anchor because they were experiencing engine problems.  The anchor chain snapped in heavy seas and unable to get enough power from it's faltering engine; it broadsided Table View beach around midnight on the 7th September 2009. It must have been terrifying for the crew, who all managed to get off safely.

The way that the wreck was handled thereafter, and what followed can only be described as a farce or a comedy of errors. Depending on your perspective.

At one point, a year later the ship 'caught fire' during dismantling efforts on 4th June 2010 and some believed (hoped) that this would burn off any remaining bunker fuel. It didn't.

Video of SELI 1 on fire

Because the ship was outside of Cape Town harbor  It was not the harbor authorities responsibility. So they could do little in the way of action to try to tow it off the beach.

It was widely reported that the 'owner' of the stricken ship. Atadura Denizcilik (1) of Izmir,Turkey.

Allegedly felt that it was uneconomic to re-float the ship, washed his hands of the whole affair, walked away and pocketed the insurance money.

It appears that the potential for an environmental disaster, did not factor into his thinking.

This blame game of who was responsible for the wreck, continued in the press at the time, with claim and counterclaim, whilst the shipwreck began to settle into the once pristine sandy beach.
This inactivity made local beachfront hotel and guesthouse owners, facing the now wreaking and leaking wreck, very angry. 
Then to the horror of local people and wildlife protection groups, the first oil spill was spotted.

More carnage as the ship was left to burn for several days.

SELI 1 on Fire apparently caused by a welder error  

©mamulcahy 2009-2013

The MV SELI 1 was a bulk carrier and on it's way to Gibraltar when it fatefully dropped anchor in Table Bay. It had 30,000 tonnes of coal on-board. It was also carrying 660 tonnes of bunker fuel (special navy fuel oil, for marine engines)

Removal of this thick oil was a top priority and plans were made as early as the 9th September 2009 to remove it, but work had to stop due to bad weather.
By the 19th September significant amounts of the bunker fuel was pumped out and transferred from the ship to a vessel which took it into port.

However there were holes in the hull, and seawater had entered the engine room and became contaminated with oil. This was seeping out of the engine room and contaminating sea birds and other wildlife.

Cranes were used to remove the coal. This was a very dangerous task and of course it was weather dependent.

SELI 1 unloading coal ©mamulcahy 2009-2013

This 29 year old ship was built in 1980 in South Korea and according to the marine salvers.  
Marine Electrical Technical Services  

Ships of this class have a useful working life of about 20 years.
The SELI 1 was well past her sell by date, and poor maintenance seems to have been a contributing factor to her ultimate failure.

Dealing with the owner took valuable time, and all the while the ship was beginning to break up and a further oil spill occurred.

In an attempt to hold the ship together, some steel girders were welded to the ships hull to try to keep it in one piece. This was not very successful as the Atlantic breakers pummeled the wreck.
The off loading in itself was a very dangerous operation as the South Atlantic Benguela Current, swells and tides, can be ferocious.

The weather played an important role in the following weeks, months and years. The need to get the ship unloaded before the winter of 2010 was paramount.
In the following months, the hard work progressed in fits and starts to off load as much of the coal and fuel as possible. This was often hampered by heavy weather.

The ship has been variously chopped up with oxy- acetylene torches, set on fire by accident and on the 14th March 2013, finally blown to bits with explosives, by the South African Navy. 

The idea is to push it off of the beach and onto the sea bed. These wrecks do become refuges for all kinds of sea creatures, and can act as an artificial reef, and that's fine.
But the SELI 1 still contained oil, that could not be so easily removed. 

After 4 years of continual toil and chaos, it appears that even the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds SANCOOB has accepted that there will be further contamination from this wreck, for some time to come.

According to SANCOOB' observations of the wreck site, the position of the ship has altered the coastline somewhat, with accretion and erosion occurring.

Still cleaning and rehabilitating many sea birds.

'Since the SELI 1 caused a major oil slick off Table Bay on Saturday, 1 September 2012, SANCOOB admitted a total of 254 sea-birds to their centre in Table View for rehabilitation.The birds admitted included 219 oiled, endangered African penguins, 2 oiled Cape Gannets, 33 penguin chicks and 3 eggs that were abandoned as a result of their parents being oiled.With the help of the dedicated staff and volunteers of SANCCOB, the last of the oiled birds were washed on 19 September and were admitted for rehabilitation together with the other birds affected by the oil slick.'

They recently released back into the wild the 100th African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), common name the Black-footed Penguin. (a very rare species) it is predominantly found only in Southern Africa. 

The African Penguin 

Source Wikipedia

Endangered African Penguin 

Almost two years after the ship had foundered. The SA government department responsible for the overall clean up project released this statement.

'On Friday night, 2 September at 23h00 the City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre were informed of an oil slick on the coastline at Blaauwberg.[Afrikaans spelling] The clean-up operations were hampered last night as a result of poor visibility and rough sea conditions.
At first daylight response teams from various agencies assembled at the disaster command post opposite the SELI 1 vessel. From the initial assessment it was determined that approximately one kilometer of coastline has been affected by the oil slick'

Source Info.Gov.ZA 

Needless to say even more wildlife was affected by this additional oil spill.

The African penguin is a highly endangered species and this is obviously not helping.

'POPULATION TREND: African penguin populations have been reduced by approximately 90 percent since the beginning of the 20th century. In 1910, there were probably approximately 1.4 million adult birds in one population alone at Dassen Island, which had been reduced to about 145,000 birds by the mid-1950's. The worldwide population was estimated at 179,000 birds in the late 1990's and is still declining'.

Other potential collateral damage

The Koeberg Nuclear power station is just a few miles along the coast. It's cooling water intake is from the ocean. There was a concern that this may become contaminated if oil got into the cooling system.


Other adverse effects.

Table View beach and Blouberg beach is a sensitive sand dune area. It's Eco system is very delicate. 
The SA government has been trying for many years to try to protect this beach but with limited success. The dunes need to be maintained and special grasses planted and encouraged to grow, stabilizing the dunes. This often fails due to poor maintenance.

The SA government has closed the section of dunes directly in front of the wreck site, and banned car parking there too.
It has designated a spot, on another part of the dunes for sightseers; to try to minimize the environmental damage. 
This means that yet another part of the dunes are being eroded. This time by sightseers. There doesn't seem to be a lot of joined up thinking in their planning process.

The public have been advised to stop eating the locally caught fish and seafood.

Sightseers destroying the beach ©mamulcahy 2009-2013

Oil spills big or small are a disaster for the environment

The gulf of Mexico oil spill has been recently reported as possibly fixable using microbes. This may have a grain of truth, but it is also more than a little misleading. 

There is no time line or discussion about just how many microbes it would take to clean the environment, or and how effective it would be. 
The process may well work in the lab or under optimum conditions, but it is a little disingenuous to suggest it is as viable solution.

There is only one solution to oil spills and that is, 'not to have them' in the first place.

The feckless owners of poorly maintained vessels, should be jailed for environmental terrorism instead of walking away, scot free.

Who is responsible

We are all responsible. Our love affair with oil is causing catastrophic harm to the planet. We all know this. 
Unless we vote with our feet and change our purchasing decisions, and change the way we support the oil industry, things will carry on as before.

It really is up to you. Think globally but act locally

One can hardly imagine the devastation that is happening in the Gulf of Mexico and will continue to destroy that environment. BP have coughed up $4.5 billion in fines.

I just hope the US government spend it on cleaning up the mess, left by this monster of an oil spill. 
If President Obama wants to cut unemployment. 
I couldn't think of a better way to get people back to work and tidy up the place at the same time. 

Table View Beach before the SELI 1

The Table View and Blouberg beach area, is world famous for kite surfing and is in the top three beaches of the world.
It attracts many professional kite surfers, and world record runs have been recorded here.

It is used by scuba divers who enjoy incredible underwater flora and fauna, surfing, kite surfing, canoeing and paddle skiing. 
Fishermen both professional and amateur alike use it, and the beach itself gets plenty of visitors; who just like to walk along it or just look at it. 

It is beautiful.

When you see a news report 'from Cape Town' the background is of Table Mountain. 

That view is actually from Table View beach, which is about 18 miles around the Bay. It is the best view of the city of Cape Town. As you can see below.

Table Mountain ©mamulcahy 2003-2013

This video was shot a couple of years prior to the SELI 1 shipwreck. In the same location. The video may not play in some browsers so you will have to watch it on YouTube but it is worth a couple of minutes as it is simply beautiful. 

Kite Surfing Cape Town


Those people responsible for turning a minor grounding, of a poorly maintained ship, into a environmental catastrophe should be locked up.


The way we respond to shipwrecks, is dependent as much on attitudes as it is on costs.
As you can see from these other shipwreck photos from Table View beach. 
Even local fishermen get caught out sometimes by the heaving swells. The difference is they did something about it and fast.

These fishing boats ran aground on the 9th December 2012 after one developed engine failure and the other tried to get a tow line on to her. 

They both ran aground but were successfully re-floated with not too much damage. These owners acted responsible and cleaned up the mess.

©mamulcahy 2012

9th December 2012 ©mamulcahy 2012

©mamulcahy 2012

For more information on the many shipwrecks on the western cape.


  1. Angelia Phillips16 April 2013 at 05:12


    This is an incredible article, and superbly informative. It also made me stomping, flipping, flaming angry. I'd say, a grand-scale boycott of any goods or services associated with any individual owner, or corporation, involved in a spill would be a great way to make an impact in getting the "we won't put up with it" point across.

  2. Hello Angelia,

    It was appalling the way the owner of this vessel behaved, and he still hasn't been brought to book for it.
    I have never even seen his name mentioned in the press. It is as if everyone is scared to say it.
    I had quite a task, just to find out who he actually was.

    He is only ever referred to in the press as... 'the Turkish owner'

    The odd thing is. I was actually on the beach, when he arrived to inspect the wreck. I didn't have a camera with me, and never real thought much about it at the time. Except that he was a (insert expletive of your choice)

    I would probably have had the only photo of this guy, in the world. He is very elusive.


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