Sea life will be checked for signs of pollution near the site of a chemical cargo dump off the west coast, the Western Cape environment department said on Wednesday.
Endemic mussel species will be tested, as will any suspect marine life that washes up within range of the site 250km offshore where close to 1,500 tonnes of smouldering cargo was dumped.
The cargo comprised fertiliser material aboard the Chinese-owned bulk carrier NS Qingdao, which reported a fire last year in one of its cargo holds while berthed in Durban.
The ship was subsequently moved into deep water and later to the west coast to allow salvage personnel to contain the fire.
Fears the cargo might explode or the ship might sink prompted a high-risk operation to dump the smouldering cargo at sea. The ship then returned to Saldanha, where the rest of the cargo is being offloaded and taken to a landfill.
The provincial environment department said it had initiated an environmental impact study on the ocean dumping.
“This includes the development of drift models and sample collection in the affected area. Satellite monitoring of the ocean will continue to develop a clear understanding of the potential impact the dumping might have had on the environment,” it said.
“Toxicology testing will be conducted on endemic mussel species, and any suspect marine life that washes up on the beach will be sent for autopsies by a state veterinarian.
“The cause of the incident is under investigation and a chemical analysis of the cargo is being conducted to determine the underlying factors for the fire and whether the vessel had undeclared cargo in the hold.”
So far, more than 150 skips, each containing five tonnes of waste material, have been disposed of at Vissershok high hazardous waste management site outside Cape Town, the department said, adding the operation was ongoing.