Oceana, Africa’s largest fishing company, has moved to establish water security through desalination plants at two of its factories on the West Coast.
Desalination is a controversial technology, with the costs of establishing and operating plant often cited as prohibitive. However, the technology gained attention following the recent drought in the Western Cape.
Oceana’s acting CEO, Imraan Soomra, said that at R35m the capital expenditure to ensure the provision of up to 1.4-million litres of potable water daily was negligible when measured against the real risk of another prolonged drought in the Western Cape. The Oceana Group is a global fishing company and employs about 2,000 people on the West Coast, mostly at St Helena Bay and Laaiplek.
Oceana is also the leading supplier of canned pilchards in Southern Africa and throughout the continent. According to the company, its low-cost, high-protein product was an important contributor to food security in the region. About 400-million servings of Lucky Star pilchards are consumed annually.
Soomra said the company had the option of moving its operations elsewhere in the world to avoid the threat of running out of water and thus sacrificing all the jobs it provided on the West Coast. "We couldn’t do that. Our company has grown into what it is today because of the fishing community," he said.
Since June 2017, Oceana had reduced water consumption by 30%-40% at its factories by switching from potable water to seawater wherever possible and reusing waste heat condensate for cleaning. "Without pure fresh water, we cannot operate a fish cannery," Soomra said.
Oceana’s plants were built by InproChem, a business unit in the AECI group.
A R300m desalination plant in Richards Bay, commissioned in a public-private partnership between provincial and local authorities and South32 produces about 10-million litres of water a day and supplies about 150 households.
SA’s largest plant, built by Alveolia in Mossel Bay, produces 15-million litres a day, 10-million litres of which is for household use and 5-million litres for use by energy parastatal PetroSA.
Soomra acknowledged as valid the argument that because of the high energy cost, desalination transfers the cost of water production to water consumption in the generation of electricity, in this case to SA’s coal-fired power stations in the hinterland.
Oceana was planning to go off-grid in energy production too, he said.