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The MV Princess is due to leave Durban next week to begin a two dimensional (2D) seismic survey in Sasol’s 80 000km2 petroleum exploration area.
The exploration zone stretches from Port Shepstone in the south to Kosi Bay in the north. At its closest point, the exploration area is 25km from the coast, extending almost 400km.
The exploration work is being conducted by CGG Services, a Paris-based company.
The American multinational ExxonMobil hopes to do a similar survey next year, further out to sea.
According to the consultancy firm CCA Environmental, the offshore survey will take 30 to 40 days, depending on the weather.
The vessel will be towing airguns and an acoustic streamer almost 9km long to build up an underwater picture of the sea bed where oil and gas might be found.
Because the airguns emit loud noises underwater, the MV Princess will be accompanied by a marine mammal observer to record deaths, injuries or unusual behaviour in fish, whales and other creatures.
Due to the length of the streamer, the vessel cannot manoeuvre quickly and any other vessels travelling through the survey area will not be allowed to approach.
Two months ago, the MV Princess was involved in a diplomatic incident between Turkey and Cyprus, while the ship was conducting a similar 2D seismic survey off Cyprus.
Cyprus accused the Turkish navy of “harassing” the seismic vessel while it searched for petroleum off its southern coast, while Turkey claimed the vessel had strayed into disputed national waters and ordered it to leave.