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Mediterranean Shipping Company Cleans Up Durban Cargo Spill

When a freak storm hit the Port of Durban on 10 October 2017, two cargo containers holding plastic nurdles were dislodged from the deck of an MSC Mediterranean Shipping[1] Company cargo vessel and fell into the harbour.

The containers were particularly vulnerable at that time, as they had been loosened for unloading, in line with standard port operations procedures. Hurricane-force winds, torrential rains and flash[2]-floods hit the port of Durban and surrounding region in what amounted to a provincial disaster.

Our immediate priority was to make the vessel safe and minimise the environmental impact. We responded proactively by engaging companies with global experience and local knowledge to lead the clean-up operation of the sea and the Durban coastline.

That took place before any formal instruction was issued by the authorities and we have committed to funding and supporting the clean-up until it is complete. Working with specialist organisations, Resolve Marine Group and Drizit Environmental, we have used boat patrols, dive teams, industrial vacuums, spades and giant sieves to locate and extract the nurdles. The clean-up teams have worked tirelessly from 4.30am each day to comb the beaches to the north and south of Durban, as far as Port Elizabeth.

We have dedicated 250,000 hours to the clean-up operation and scoured almost 1,000 kilometres of coastline – often sieving sand by hand on the beaches – and the work is ongoing with hundreds of people deployed each day.

Since our response commenced in October, 12.5 tons of nurdles have been collected and removed from South Africa[3]‘s coastline. Due to the weather, ocean currents and tidal movements, nurdles have appeared gradually since the storm and certain beaches have been re-charged after the initial cleaning.

While the only cargo spilled was nurdles, we have also retrieved coastal debris from unrelated land-based sources, including enough plastic waste to fill eight shipping containers. MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company operates one of the youngest and greenest fleets in the world and as a responsible business our commitment to cleaner seas and wildlife conservation is core to our long-term environmental strategy.

MSC is committed to supporting the clean-up operation as long as required.


  1. ^ Mediterranean Shipping (www.marinelink.com)
  2. ^ flash (www.marinelink.com)
  3. ^ from South Africa (www.marinelink.com)

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