CSIR’s SeaFAR detects massive bilge dump


The unauthorised dumping of waste oil into the ocean, commonly known as bilge dumping, is highly illegal and hazardous to marine ecology and is one of the areas identified by the blue economy sector of Operation Phakisa for increased awareness and response.

Most shipping companies remain on the right side of the law regarding bilge dumping but there are some that blatantly contravene it as the eagle eye of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) SeaFAR system found off the east coast of Africa recently.

A ship en-route to Iran was responsible for the longest bilge dump between Madagascar and Mozambique. This was recorded by the CSIR’s SeaFAR, which has been processing historic data in South Africa’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for the past five years.

Explaining how the SeaFAR system works, CSIR research engineer and the inventor of the system, Dr Waldo Kleynhans, said: “We use satellite-based synthetic aperture radars to monitor the deep ocean to detect and identify vessels that exhibit suspicious behaviour.”
“We are looking for vessels lurking in our waters and have their transponders off, as well as those involved in bilge dumping activities. It was during a monitoring exercise that we picked it up. The bilge dump recorded was 160 km long. We ran our algorithms to match the track of the suspected vessel with Advanced Identification System data and were able to identify the vessel and subsequently alerted the authorities in South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar,” adds Kleynhans.

The CSIR is now engaging with coastal countries in Africa in a bid to aid them to monitor their coastlines and EEZ for illegal and suspicious activity.
“The SeaFAR bilge dump detection algorithm and ship offender correlation algorithm are components of the National Oceans and Coasts Information System (OCIMS),” says Lee Annamalai, Competency Area Manager for Earth Observation and ICT.
“The OCIMS is a priority information system for the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and forms part of the Phakisa Oceans Economy deliverables, which is tasked with ensuring the South African EEZ remains a pollution-free zone,” he added.
“We have been piloting SeaFAR with the DEA for about two years now, monitoring priority Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The team has been conducting research and development to improve SeaFAR. It is now at the point where it will soon be operationally deployed for monitoring the main shipping lanes and all the MPAs in the EEZ, including the Prince Edward and Marion Islands,” Annamalai said.