Spill Tech cleans up Umbilo River Oil Spill. Courtesy: South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (

On 19 October, in Durban, South Africa, an oil spill contaminated the Umbilo River, flowing into the Durban Harbour. The spill came from a state-owned Transnet pipeline, due to damage caused by fuel-theft. Transnet has stated that it estimates around 60,000 liters of crude oil has spilled into the environment. Transnet deployed emergencies response teams and Spill Tech is cleaning up the oil.

Theft and Tampering

Those looking to steal fuel either dig holes in the pipeline, attaching their own fittings and syphoning fuel, or tamper with valves, according to Transnet. These actions cause spills, immeasurable environmental damage and can even cause fires.

These crimes affect businesses and threaten food security, in turn affecting all people of South Africa. Farmers are some of the worst affected, and so prices are driven up as food shortages occur. This is not the only state owned enterprise suffering from theft, tampering and crimes. Electric wires, phone lines and even train tracks have been stolen in the past, causing major repercussions and expense.

MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube Assesses Clean up Operations:

“Today I have briefed the provincial executive council about the containment measures that are being implemented by Transnet, experts and environmentalists following a theft incident that resulted in spillage of crude oil in the Bellair Area, in Durban.

Today, I am scheduled to visit the Durban Canal Harbour to assess the cleaning up operations. The visit will be between 13h00 and 14h30 latest.

We remain encouraged by the sterling efforts of all role-players who are actively involved in the implementation of containment measures aimes at preventing damage to the environment.

I have received calls and messages from Umbilo residents and all other communities who want to be part of the Climate Change Council whose focus is the implementation of the agenda on Climate Change.

We commit to work with all communities to deal with river pollution and all other incidents that threatens our environment.

I am in constant contact with national government whose support is immeasurable. 

As indicated yesterday, we I will ensure that all spheres of government work in an integrated manner in order to strengthen measures undertaken by Transnet as part of cleaning and rehabilitating the source of the spillage and the harbour.

We remain concerned about increasing cases that involved the damage of Transnet pipelines.  

Who is responsible for the extraction of crude oil?

Who is distributing it?

Who is refining it?

Do we have illegal refineries?

Who is selling it?

Who are the buyers?

Is there a syndicate operating in KZN?

We are confident that law enforcement agencies will establish answers to these questions.

In addition, as pointed out last night, we are calling upon communities to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that those who are responsible for vandalizing Transnet Pipelines are brought to book.

Last night I pointed out that Transnet had recorded over 80 incidents of fuel theft and incidents of attempted theft. They have also recorded cases of tampering with pipeline infrastructure with the intention to steal fuel. 

As it has been pointed out in various platforms, Transnet operates and maintains a network of 3800 km of high-pressure petroleum and gas pipelines from Durban to Gauteng across five provinces.  

We have a responsibility as the people of this province to ensure that we protect this valuable infrastructure which is critical for our economy.”

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