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The BBC's Darren Jordon
"The sinking of an oil tanker off Cape Town couldn't have come at a worse time"
 real 28k

Monday, 26 June, 2000, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Oil slick threatens penguins
group of penguins
Rescuers hose down a group of penguins
Environmentalists in South Africa have been rescuing thousands of penguins threatened by an oil spill off Cape Town, the second such disaster in six years.

The oil has been washing straight onto Robben Island, home to nearly 14,000 Jackass penguins, but better known as the place where the former President Nelson Mandela was jailed for many years.

Conservationists say that more than 2,000 oil-coated penguins have already been taken away to a rehabiliation centre in Cape Town for cleaning.

The South African National Conservation for Coastal Birds (Sanccob) said it was trying to evacuate the island's entire penguin colony following the spill, which prevents the penguins from eating or swimming.

Breeding season

Penguins not yet affected by the slick would be evacuated by an airforce helicopter to an airbase near Cape Town, then on to Port Elizabeth where they would be released again into the sea, a Sanccob official said.

Threatened penguins
Oily water prevents penguins eating or swimming
The rescue effort is considered particularly urgent as the oil spill coincides with the start of the penguins' breeding season.

Jackass penguins, also known as African penguins, are the only ones native to the continent; they are endemic to the South African coast, with Robben Island housing the third largest colony.

The trouble began on Friday when a Panamanian-registered bulk carrier, Treasure, developed a hole in her hull as it was being towed away from Robben Island.

The vessel eventually sank off the Cape Town coast with 1,400 tonnes of oil on board, a third of which had leaked into the sea by Sunday evening.

Kendall Kaveney, a Cape Town city council official, said that 40 council workers were trying to remove oil from the beaches, and would continue doing so for weeks if necessary.

Previous disaster

Sanccob logo
Sanccob: trying to save the penguins
Cape Town suffered a major oil pollution disaster in June 1994, when the tanker Apollo Sea sank with 2,470 tonnes of oil on board.

Thousands of sea birds died, and it was more than a year before the last of the oil was mopped up from the city's beaches.

On that occasion, 10,000 oil-covered penguins were retrieved and cleaned in one of the world's largest such operations.

Less than half the birds survived, but the rest were returned successfully to the wild.

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See also:

05 Dec 98 | Americas
Penguins in peril
26 Feb 98 | Asia-Pacific
Pick up a penguin
23 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Oil harms otters 10 years on
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