The Jolly Rubino – an Italian-owned container vessel – caught fire off of Richards Bay in September, 2002. It subsequently ran aground near the St Lucia Lighthouse within the boundaries of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park initially causing grave concern to environmental authorities, particularly since its cargo included a range of hazardous chemicals.
Given the potential for disaster however the environmental damage has according to Jean Harris of KZNW, been minimal. This was also due partly to prevailing winds at the time of the incident which were blowing north. It was undoubtedly also due to the coordinated and speedy response to the crisis
potential by a number of authorities acting in concert.
There also seemed to be no obvious irritants around the site of
the wreck as curious whales had come to inspect it. Given the debate about opening the mouth of the St Lucia estuary, in retrospect the decision to throw up a protective berm to shield the mouth from water borne possible pollutants was the correct one.
Gerry Garland, a coastal geomorphologist from the University of Natal, says that the wreck could provide a `useful scientific benchmark to test
long shore drift and how sand accumulates along the coast with the inshore current. An indication of sea current extent was that some containers off the ill-fated vessel washed up in Port Elizabeth.
Over the next few months however, the salvors – working in consultation with environmental and maritime authorities and at the expense of the owners – managed to remove all of the remaining hazardous cargo and the majority of oil, thereby significantly reducing the threat posed by the vessel. They also took a number of steps to remove other materials which could wash up as debris along the coastline if and when the vessel breaks up.
In summation the incident highlighted the preparedness of many authorities in Zululand and
The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park to work together as a team in a time of potential environmental crisis.