MS Oliva Oil Spill, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic

Hello Everyone,

Today we wanted to blog about the disaster that is unfolding in the South Atlantic Ocean.  On March 16th, 2011 the Malta freighter MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island (part of the Tristan da Cunha Islands) en route from Santos, Brazil to Singapore.  All 22 crewmembers were safely rescued, however the ship broke up two days later on March 18th, 2011.  The freighter is said to have been carrying 1,650 tons of heavy crude oil, as well as a full shipment of soya beans.

The MS Oliva breaking up on the rocks off of Nightingale Island. Picture by Sean Burns of the MV Edinburgh.

Tristan da Cunha is a remote volcanic group of islands, all of which are home to unique wildlife, some found nowhere else on earth.  Nightingale Island, in particular, is inhabited by the endangered Rockhopper penguin.  In addition to penguins, 3 species of albatross inhabit these islands (the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, the Sooty Albatross, and the Tristan Wandering Albatross), as well as Great Shearwaters (an endemic seabird of the Tristan group), petrels, skuas and terns, among other wildlife.

Nightingale Island in the south Atlantic.

There is no “ideal” place for an oil spill to occur, but if one were able to choose a location for an oil spill to NOT occur, the Tristan da Cunha Island group would be it.  These islands are true oceanic islands, located nearly halfway between South America and Africa, and 1,750 miles from the nearest land.  It takes 4-7 days for a boat to reach its shores from Cape Town, South Africa.  In the world of oil spills we often take for granted the proximity of resources (people, clean-up equipment, capture gear, rehabilitation centers) to the spills.  That is certainly one of the main challenges being faced with this particular oil spill.

Heavily oiled Rockhopper penguin. Photo by Simon Glass, Wayne Swain, and Matthew Green of the Tristan Conservation Team.

Reports coming in today claim that as many as 20,000 penguins are oiled, and treatment is scheduled to begin today (Tuesday, March 22).  Rescue workers plan to use an old fishing factory for cleaning and rehabilitation efforts.  As of yesterday (Monday, March 21), a salvage tug reached the wreck site and is beginning clean-up efforts.  Plans are currently being made to transport a team of specialists to assist the penguin cleaning and rehabilitation efforts on the island.  The OWCN is ready to provide any assistance, if necessary.

Oiled Rockhopper penguins. Photo by Simon Glass, Wayne Swain, and Matthew Green of the Tristan Conservation Team.

Please see the links below for more information and check back here for more updates.

– Becky and Kyra

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