Massive iceberg proposed as solution to Cape Town’s water crisis

16th May 2018 By: Kim Cloete - Creamer Media Correspondent

South African marine salvage expert Nick Sloane has outlined a novel plan to guide an iceberg towards the west coast and harvest it to keep Cape Town’s water shortage at bay. 

He said despite the idea seeming “crazy”, he believed it could be done and would supply 20% of Cape Town’s water needs.

“We’ve put together a team based in South Africa, Norway, France, Israel and Canada to look at this possibility,” Sloane told a special session on innovative approaches to problem solving at African Utility Week in Cape Town.  

Sloane, who is famous for refloating the capsized Italian passenger liner, Costa Concordia, in 2014, said currents were moving some of the icebergs south of Cape Town and that the iceberg could be captured in the area around Gough island.

An ideal iceberg for the purpose would be between 220 m and 250 m deep.

“At any time there are seven icebergs that fit our profile in that area. We can track them with satellite tracking, drones, boats and radiography,” said Sloane. The iceberg could then be guided back into the Benguela current that flows along the west coast of Southern Africa.

Sloane explained how the iceberg would initially be circled and captured by two ocean-going tugs, which normally tow oil rigs around the world.  They would then hand over to a super-tanker, which he said was much more stable in the southern ocean.

“Rather than towing an iceberg, we will guide it into the different current system.”

The iceberg would ultimately be guided and moored about 40 km offshore from St Helena island to be harvested.

A “saucer” has to be created to capture the melting water, which would be pumped into tankers and transported to Saldanha Bay and False Bay.

Sloane said prospects for rain in the all-important winter season were worrying. 

“If we don't have enough rain this winter, we will face Day Zero next year. Over 2 000-billion tonnes of icebergs fracture and fall off Antarctica every year. About 140 000 icebergs drift around the southern oceans and melt. Mother Nature has billions of tons of icebergs out there and maybe it’s time we look at it.”

Sloane said bringing icebergs to the Cape would take nine to ten months of preparation from order and they would only be captured in summer. 

“If we don’t do it this year, we can do it within a few years time.”

Sloane is working with a team that includes Norwegian glaciologist, Olav Orheim, and well-known Cape Town-based engineer Mike Shand. They are due to propose their plan to investors and City of Cape Town officials this month.

He said iceberg drift analysis and modelling had been funded by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and has been studied for years.