Officials in Durban have ordered the removal of shark nets on several beaches in anticipation of rough seas due to Tropical Cyclone Batsirai, which is expected to make landfall in Madagascar on Saturday.
With winds of more than 200khp (124mph) and torrential rain, Madagascan officials warned the storm poses a “very serious threat” to millions.
Cyclone Batsirai is expected to make landfall on the island between late afternoon and early evening on Saturday as an intense tropical cyclone and cross into the Mozambique Channel by Sunday.
Winds could reach “more than 200 or even 250kph … at the point of impact” and waves could reach as high as 15 metres, according to Météo-France.
The storm poses a risk to at least 4.4 million people in one way or another, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said, while UN and other agencies are mobilising to provide aid to affected communities.
In Durban, all beaches to the north and south of the city have been closed due to the need to remove shark nets and other safety gear in anticipation of rough seas.
“The Sharks Board have removed all the shark nets to prevent unnecessary losses and/or damage to their equipment as a result of strong winds and heavy seas associated with predicted severe weather systems,” the City said.
The South African Weather Service (SAWS) is monitoring the storm as it churns toward South Africa’s east coast, but is unable to definitively predict its impact on Kwa-Zulu Natal and surrounding areas.
“Very rough seas, combined with storm surge, tend to be more extreme on the southern (poleward) side of tropical storms in this region of the world,” said Kevin Rae, Chief Forecaster, SAWS, adding that the movement of tropical cyclones can be extremely erratic.
“It is difficult to speculate about [the] future movement of Batsirai in the timescale beyond this weekend,” he told The Witness. “Meteorologists are however confident that Batsirai will weaken temporarily once it makes landfall over Madagascar.”
“It is also probable that Batsirai will re-invigorate as it enters the ocean environment of the Mozambique Channel, early next week,” he added.
“In the days ahead, there is no immediate weather-related threat for South Africa, in relation to this tropical cyclone,” he said.
Will Durban cruises be affected?
MSC Orchestra is currently sailing roundtrip out of Durban to destinations on the Mozambique Coast.
Her current itinerary is a 3-night cruise to Portuguese Island, with AIS data indicating she was making 6-knots north of Richard’s Bay, with her destination still listed as Portuguese Island.
Weather SA forecasts a swell of around 2-meters in the area over the coming 48 hours, which is unlikely to make her homeward bound voyage uncomfortable on Monday.
MSC Orchestra will depart Durban again on a 4-night cruise to Pomene Bay on February 7th, by which time more information will be known as to whether Cyclone Batsirai has begun to dissipate or strengthen.
The forecast path of the cyclone has it in the middle of the Mozambique Channel by Monday, meaning that MSC Orchestra will be sailing directly into the rough weather created on its poleward side.
If the cyclone has re-invigorated by then, MSC may choose to delay Orchestra’s next departure by a day or two, or may amend the itinerary to sail to a cruise destination closer to home, rather than sail into the storm.
It’s rare for Durban cruises to be significantly affected by the region’s annual cyclone season.
The last major incident was in 2007 when Saga Cruises’ ship Spirit of Adventure found itself caught out by a cyclone and had to run for shelter in severely rough weather, eventually cancelling the cruise due to damage to the vessel.