Our Burning Planet


Karpowership’s environmental hazards controversially reduced in new EIA specs

Karpowership’s environmental hazards controversially reduced in new EIA specs
Flames engulf the Italian LPG tanker Syn Zania following an explosion during loading operations at the Petkim refinery terminal in Turkey in 2019. (Photo: UEIM Marine Safety Investigation Report)

The revisions appear to have lowered several of the predicted risk profiles for harbour workers should fires or explosions break out accidentally around the proposed gas-to-power ships and pipelines in Richards Bay, Ngqura or Saldanha Bay.

Karpowership consultants have declined an opportunity to fully explain belated revisions to three specialist studies dealing with the deadly hazards of mooring several power ships in three SA ports for the next 20 years.

The revisions appear to have lowered several of the predicted risk profiles for harbour workers should fires or explosions break out accidentally around the proposed gas-to-power ships and pipelines in Richards Bay, Ngqura or Saldanha Bay.


Three of these Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) vessels would be anchored in Richards Bay, Ngqura and Saldanha Bay to supply five other powerships with gas supplies. Each FSRU has a capacity of 170,000 cubic metres of LNG. (Image: Karpowership)

For example, the predicted fatality distance of a transfer hose “flash fire” (previously calculated at 879m) has decreased by almost half to 499m. The maximum fatality distance for a “jet fire” drops from 568m to 188m, while in another scenario, another jet fire impact distance drops from 220m to just 15m.

Last year, Karpowership consultants submitted an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) as part of the approval process for the controversial Turkish-led “emergency solution” to the Eskom electricity crisis.

That study — rejected by DFFE assessors as flawed and inadequate — also contained three specialist reports compiled by Claude Thackwray, the head of Cape Town-based Major Hazard Risk Consultants.

Despite standing by her officials in rejecting the flawed EIA process, DFFE Minister Barbara Creecy granted Karpowership another bite at the cherry by giving it extra time to conduct further studies and public consultations as part of an extended EIA process.

Above: a Youtube clip showing an LNG road tanker explosion on the Beijing-Harbin highway in 2018.

The department’s rejection of the first study did not appear to raise explicit concerns around Thackwray’s major hazard installation (MHI) gas fire and explosion risk studies. (Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, a major hazard installation is defined as an industrial facility which handles dangerous materials which could harm staff and members of the public in the vicinity in the event of an accident such as a major fire, explosion or release of toxic materials.)

Somewhat inexplicably, however, Thackwray has now compiled three fresh reports that contain several changes to the initial reports he signed off on in February 2021.

The new Thackwray reports, dated November 2022, were published as part of the second public participation process during a brief series of online and in-person meetings held last month.

During his recent speech at the start of the 55th ANC Elective Conference, President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that emergency power would be procured to deal with the country’s dire energy problems. Gas ships have consistently been mooted as a source of emergency power despite their term of operation being 20 years.

Visible changes

When Our Burning Planet attended one of the virtual meetings on 23 November, we noticed visible changes to one of his computer-modelled maps depicting the likely consequences of heat profiles, flame distances and death risks if a gas fire or explosion were to occur in Richards Bay harbour.

So, at the online meeting, we asked Thackwray to explain the reasons for the visible differences in at least one of the new risk maps.

He acknowledged that there had indeed been “quite a few changes” and “quite a few [new] inputs”. This was because he had obtained more information about Karpowership vessels since the first EIA risk study, allowing him to produce a second assessment with more accuracy.

In addition, the computer software he used to model the risks was updated on a regular basis by the manufacturers (about every three months), leading to altered risk profiles for gas leaks occurring over water.

Overall, however, the total risk profile of the Karpowership project at Richards Bay had “not really changed”. If anything, Thackwray suggested, “the risk profile, in some ways, is actually higher than the previous one” because some of the modelled fire and explosion distances had increased by up to 95m.

This was his full response to our question (as recorded in the minutes of the public meeting):

Claude Thackwray’s overall conclusion on the risks posed by the Karpowership proposal for Richards Bay. He suggests the risks are similar to those of an ordinary gas pipeline and connection in a domestic home or of being struck and killed by lightning. Notably, he estimates elsewhere in the study that the volume of liquid natural gas passing through Richards Bay harbour will be around 2,000,000 cubic metres per year.

Okay… So, what did this mean? No big deal? Nothing to see here. Just some minor “software updates” that changed a few scenarios. What else had changed, we wondered? 

So, immediately after the public meeting, we sourced copies of all three MHI reports from the first and second EIAs. Then we placed each harbour report side by side and compared them. 

Line by line.

Though the new reports were largely copy-and-paste versions of the first ones, we soon discovered that several other things had changed when reading closely between the lines.


With some of the computer-modelled maps, it seemed to be a case of comparing chalk and cheese. Here is one example, a map depicting a vapour cloud explosion in Richards Bay harbour:

karpowership comparison 1

The sizes of the three colour contours in these two maps are markedly different. In the first map (left), the blue contour — depicting a flammable gas cloud — extends across the harbour to completely cover two ships anchored at the opposite terminal. In the second map (right), the shape of the gas cloud is roughly similar, but the sizes of the red and yellow contours are completely different. The reasons for this are unclear (though it should be noted that in Thackwray’s second report, there are subtle changes to the description of each contour).

In one report, the red contour is described as an area where some fatalities would be expected. In the second report, the red contour is described as a 1% fatality contour.

Here is another example below, depicting the consequences of a flash fire from a transfer hose shear in Ngqura (Coega) harbour.

karpowership comparison 2

In the first version (left), the blue contour shows a flammable gas cloud. In the second (right), the gas cloud is shown in yellow. Notably, the second modelled gas cloud does not reach the shoreline. What is most remarkable is the “1% fatality contour” (red on the left) and a vastly smaller “1% fatality contour” (blue on the right).

Similar changes appear in this map, depicting a flash fire from a transfer hose shear at Richards Bay:

karpowership comparison 3

Once again, the 1% fatality zone has shrunk to a tiny speck (over open water) in the revised version, whereas in the first version, the red lethality contour almost touches two vessels on the opposite side of the harbour. The direction of the gas cloud also seems to have shifted to a more easterly direction (over open water rather than above a working quay).

Similar “shrinkage” of the red contour fatality zone also appears when comparing vapour cloud explosions in Saldanha Bay.

karpowership comparison 4

The question arises: Can all these revisions be attributed to software updates in the TNO Netherlands RISC Curves and RISC Effects modelling software?

Perhaps. But if that is the case, why do software changes only appear to have affected the “1% lethality distances” in Richards Bay and Ngqura harbours, but not Saldanha (see below)?

karpowership comparison 5

All three fire port distances compared.

Initially, all the distances in the table above were identical for all three harbours. However, in Thackwray’s revised study, the lethality distances have only affected Richards Bay and Nqqura.

With just one exception (where the transfer hose leak jet fire scenario has been revised upwards from 86m to just over 200m) the vast majority have been revised downwards for Richards Bay and Ngqura — in some cases by more than double or triple.

Why is that? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the Saldanha Bay gas-transfer ships would be located roughly 4km from the shoreline — whereas, in Richards Bay and Ngqura, gas-loading would occur much closer to land? Or are there other reasons?

We tried to raise this question, and several others, with Thackwray, his co-worker (and son) Terence Thackwray and Triplo4 (the Karpowership environmental consultant), but have not received any responses.

We sent this request to the Thackwrays and Triplo4 on 15 December, requesting comment and clarity on the issues raised, before 2pm on December 20:


Triplo4 replied on 20 December, advising: “The focus currently is on completing the EIA processes for the 3 Karpowership projects, and therefore we will not be able to comply with your deadline. It is expected that any article placed will be objective and based on verified facts.”

We offered the consultants a further 24-hour extension to respond, but no reply has been received. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    There is no need for a contract to be for 20 years. The whole rationale for pushing this project so intensively and now seeming altering impact assessment reports is extremely suspect, and the Department can’t be trusted. There are definitely agendas at play, and not what is in the best interests of the energy transition of the country. Meanwhile, there has been intensive foot dragging delaying bringing other IPP projects online.

  • R S says:

    They’re fudging the facts so they can get sign off. That seems the most likely explanation.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Can we please ask ONE VERY SIMPLE question of this proposal : if Eskom runs these emergency supplies 6h a day for a year, then at ruling gas prices, what does Eskom pay per kWh – after considering that Eskom must pay for its availability for 18h a day. One question, one answer. No if but then else however.

    • mike muller says:

      current estimates for Ankerlig (which can run both diesel and LNG) are that using LNG would be half the price of diesel ….

      • Johan Buys says:

        Mike: Three aspects to consider.

        One. The gas ship deal involves paying an availability fee for about 18h a day. So pay whether use or not. This is the offensively perverse and corrupt aspect.

        Two. There is no way on earth the LNG operating / variable cost is half diesel at present gas and diesel prices. That would be brand new mega joule energy costs.

        Three. They are implementing a 20h a day solar plus battery storage project that costs 164c/kWh. Dispatchable, millisecond response UPS-class power for a quarter of what Mrs Mantashe’s Turkish gas ship will cost. Note that NOBODY will answer what the gas ship cost per kWh will be if Eskom uses it rationally : 6h a day in peak periods. Simple enough question : give cost per kWh at 6h, 10h, 14h and 18h a day at December 2022 LNG prices.

        Most telling : nobody will sign an indemnity in favor of Eskom that there was no corruption involved in the gas ships…


    Right guys please retract the visuals. 1st visual is of an LPG fire in Turkey on a ship. Note LPG. The second is a YouTube video of an supposed LNG tanker fire. If you research further this too was an LPG incident. There is a fundamental difference between LPG, Liquid Petroleum Gas, a mix of propane and butane which is heavier than air and therefore ignites and burns on the ground or on the sea surface. LNG is Liquefied Natural Gas. This is Methane at – 162 deg C. When leaked to atmosphere it immediately gasifies and dispurses into atmosphere. The likelihood of catching fire is very very low. The concentration of air and methane has to be correct, with an ignition source before it will burn. Very unlikely. So your visuals are sensational and misleading.

    • Ed Richardson Richardson says:

      The Karpowership website states “Powerships are designed and built utilizing the latest dual fuel engine technology, operating in combined cycle mode to maximize efficiency. Fuel flexibility through Natural Gas, LNG or Low Sulfur HFO, ensures the lowest cost of delivered power with no capital outlay”.
      Therefore they can use LNG or whatever is cheapest. HFO is heavy fuel oil, so they leave the door open for spills as well.
      Go to the ten questions page on the Karpowership site.


      Tony Carnie
      you need to get your facts and visuals in this article right – please address this – the sooner South Africa embrace natural gas power generation in the short term and nuclear in the long term the sooner we will have power in SA again.

      • Johan Buys says:

        Douglas : first answer the question about what this emergency twenty year 18h a day energy will cost. Eskom should use this as peaker = 6h a day. They will pay 18h a day availability fees on top of the gas fee. Take availability plus operating cost and divide by kWh. Absent an answer I predict from other info the karwpoership costs over R5/kWh. That is about double your next favorite nuclear. It is three times what zero emission solar plus battery costs for 20h a day and the solar bess is known, fixed, zero health safety risk for 25 years….

  • John Strydom says:

    Gwede Mantashe, for reasons unknown but not difficult to guess in the present political climate, has been keeping this ace up his sleeve for a very long time, maybe hoping that we will become desperate enough to fall for this 20-year-long drain on our economy.
    A 5-year contract, even at an increased cost, may at a push seem reasonable, but 20 years sounds like scam.

  • Dave Martin says:

    While it is valid to ask why we are wanting to sign a twenty year contract with Karpowerships, the tone of the DM’s reporting on the deal appears biased and hostile. The recent Scatec Solar + Battery deals were more expensive than Karpowerships and yet were celebrated by the same media. That’s despite them also being 20 year deals.

    We need dispatchable power on to the grid as soon as possible. At almost any cost. The cost can only be less than a the cost of hundreds of thousands of tiny generators that are currently running and now, in ever greater numbers, breaking down.

    We are not the first country to use this type of technology – it has been widely used.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    Why 20 years? A question being asked from all over the place since we heard about the power ships for the first time a looong time ago.
    Renewable power installations should be multiplied much earlier and with a much lower cost. Even ESKOM ought to be fixed much sooner and gas from other sources will be much cheaper.

  • Ritchie Morris says:

    What about the noise? 20 years of noise in amphitheatre harbours like Saldanha and Richards Bay will drive people crazy. And the underwater noise?

    • Anton van Niekerk says:

      By their own admission the company wanting to supply these floating turbines have not studied the environmental impact of sonic pollution. Those harbors are important breeding grounds for many fish species.

  • Prof Digby Cyrus says:

    A great piece of investigative journalism, they have been caught in the rush to get the submission completed.
    It may be worth Burning Planet also looking at the revised Noise Assessment. This went from over 70 decibels being spread over sensitive bird habitats on the Sandspit, in Richards Bay Estuary, down to extremely low levels. This was apparently also based on ‘new’ data and the fact that the generators exhausts have now been found to all be on one side of the ship. However, the scale of the figures is so small it is impossible to scientifically interrogate the information presented. The Sandspit is the third most important habitat for migrant wading birds in KZN.

    • Johan Buys says:

      It seems the professional independent answer to any question a project applicant might need is : what would you like the answer to be. Applies as much to environmental regulations as it does to drafting an application to appeal a court case or what you want your financial results to look like. Is the age of professional independent dead?

      • Ritchie Morris says:

        Yes Johan – the age of independent professionalism is in deed under threat. For many EIA’s the key client is no longer the environment. It’s become an exercise in writing long winded non-issue reports to try and prove a point for the paying clients benefit. Besides which the whole EIA process has warped into a tick box process and is no longer about logical and in depth scientific interrogation. Within the process the EAP now in conclusion makes a recommendation as to whether the development / issue should be approved or not. This is wrong too as it diminishes the responsibly of the authority to apply their minds to all the facts and make the best decision for the environment. In such it takes away some responsibility/liability of the regulatory authority. Also, in final argument an EAP may concentrate on positive issues and leave out negative impacts, thus an unbalanced summation. Key EIA’S for significant issues and possible impacts should be reviewed by an independent group of specialists – like the old idea of an environmental ombudsman as promoted in Prof Richard Fuggle’s era.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Gwede’s retirement plan is on track! Bugger the rest of us!

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