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Lighthouses lose their shine thanks to relentless loadshedding

Bobby Jordan Senior reporter
The Cape Agulhas lighthouse is situated at the southernmost tip of Africa.
The Cape Agulhas lighthouse is situated at the southernmost tip of Africa.
Image: 123RF/instinia

The “perfect storm” that led to South Africa's damaging energy crisis is affecting some of the country’s lighthouses, which warn ship captains of danger along the coastline and serve as a navigational aid.

Lighthouses have experienced multiple outages due to extended and more frequent load-shedding, according to Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA).

Vandalism has compounded the problem at Cape St Lucia lighthouse, which operates automatically and was stripped after staff doing maintenance were threatened and intimidated.

“Loadshedding impacts all lighthouses except those that have power supplies independent of Eskom,” Capt Alex Miya, acting executive manager at TNPA lighthouse and navigational systems, said in response to written questions.

“While all lighthouses are equipped with standby diesel generators, these backup systems are not designed to run continuously or for extended periods and therefore are being affected by the high number of outages.

“Also, lighthouses with halogen lamps can take longer to switch back on after the standby generator starts up during loadshedding. This is because the lamp needs to cool down before switching back on. TNPA attends to all reported outages as soon as practicably possible.”

Extensive damage has been caused to the 116-year-old Cape St Lucia lighthouse.
Extensive damage has been caused to the 116-year-old Cape St Lucia lighthouse.
Image: Supplied

Though TNPA did not specify which lighthouses had been affected, maritime stakeholders confirmed outages at Cape Agulhas, Port Alfred and Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth).

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his latest weekly newsletter that a combination of factors had led to the country's energy crisis. These included a lack of investment in new generating capacity, poor power plant maintenance, corruption and criminality, sabotage of infrastructure, rising municipal debt and a lack of suitable skills, which contributed to what he described as “the perfect storm”.

The SA Maritime Safety Authority​ (Samsa) said it was aware of the impact on lighthouses.

“Loadshedding has been a contributing factor to a number of outages,” said Pieter-Chris Blom, Samsa head of aids to navigation: sea watch and response. “Status follow-ups are conducted monthly and AtoN (Aids to Navigation) outages noted in our monthly report.”

TNPA said loadshedding was, however, not the only reason for outages. The St Lucia situation, including a recent fire started by arsonists, is under police investigation.

“We can confirm that the fire that was reported last week was from the Cape St Lucia lighthouse complex. The remnants of the lightkeeper’s quarters that was vandalised last year were set on fire. The lighthouse complex was extensively vandalised and damaged in November 2022 after Transnet was forced to abandon the site by members of a local business forum. It is unclear who is responsible for the vandalism or the fire,” TNPA said. 


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