The Department of Public Works has appointed specialists to investigate safety measures at the Salisbury naval base situated at the Durban harbour. This comes after the death of six men who were killed earlier in February as a result of methane gas exposure in an on-site sewer.

The department said a professional team has been tasked with compiling a detailed remedial plan for the faulty pump station from which the gas leaked.

The department revealed that of the six men who were killed, three were workers and the other three were from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

Two of the workers, Phelelani Zondi (27) and Thokozani Makhoba (30) were employed by a service provider from the department, and the third man was an independent contractor working nearby.

The SANDF members were on-site to help rescue the distressed workers from the sewer.

Analysing air quality

The contractor who has been appointed is a specialist in the water, solid waste and pump sector. The contract requires that the quality of air in the vicinity where the gas leak occurred be tested and that the pumps be repaired in line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The department said the repair plans will be soon be approved by a qualified engineer.

Presently, the site remains cordoned off as it has been declared a crime scene.

In Parliament last week, Minister Thulas Nxesi expressed deep sadness about the tragic loss of lives. “On behalf of the Public Works sector, I wish to express deep sadness about the tragic loss of life of six people on Friday morning at the Durban Naval Base,” he said. “At the weekend, we visited the grieving families in uMlazi and Nkandla to convey our sincere condolences.”

Nxesi was accompanied by director general Mziwonke Dlabantu and other senior officials from the department.

“It was not easy to face the families. They were shattered and grief-stricken. Their loved ones had left their homes to earn living so that their families could survive,” he added.

The Kwazulu-Natal Contractors Forum has donated R50 000 which were split between the Makhoba and Zondi families for funerals. The two workers were both buried on Saturday in Nkandla and Greytown respectively.