Bad tidings in South Africa

Published 22/2 at 15:06

It is a race against time to beat the ravages of Indian Ocean tides and winds in the South African port city of Richards Bay on the eastern seaboard of the province of KwaZulu-Natal. PDi’s Africa editor, Kevin Mayhew, visits and reports.

Almost 40 years since the 1979 commissioning of the unmanned lighthouse which was placed in Richards Bay to safeguard shipping at the then new, and now one of the world’s largest bulk ports, the lighthouse now looks about to be wrecked by the sea. Originally 200m from a sea cliff, the 11m high life-and-ship-saver is now only 5m from the rapidly eroding bank, soon to topple into the relentless Indian Ocean.

The Richards Bay local authority has laid the task of dealing with the light house squarely at the door of Transnet, Africa’s largest multi-disciplinary logistics parastatal, which claims that plans are in place to replace the lighthouse with a new one. The executive manager of Lighthouse and Navigational Systems at Transnet Port Authority (NPA), David Gordon, says that the company is working with the city municipality to, “Put the necessary services in place for a new lighthouse on a new site in Richards Bay.”  

Time is now at a premium, as the recent rapidity of erosion was of great concern to the NPA.  However, construction of a new facility is set to begin sometime in 2018, according to Gordon.

Local opposition political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is demanding immediate action.  This would entail that the existing lighthouse be ‘deconstructed’ before being re-assembled further back, so all procedures can be completed to begin construction of a new lighthouse at a fresh, safer site in Richards Bay.

A local geologist, Dr Alan Smith, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who has been studying the erosion of the bank for many years, cautions that the lighthouse should have been moved years ago.  He believes it will be risky to deconstruct it now as that entails bringing in heavy equipment for the task.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMA) has now weighed in. It states that it will issue a maritime warning about the possible imperilling of the facility which possesses a 25 nautical mile light range and flashes three times every 15 seconds in order to guide shipping away from rocks and sandbanks around the port’s entrance.

All of this means that a delicate problem faces the very experienced South African demolition industry.

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