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South Africa’s Maritime Excellence: Staying Ahead of the Game

19.03.2018 / Energyboardroom

As former Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters put it, South Africa is “a maritime nation”. With a strategic position along one of the world’s busiest sea routes, the Cape route connecting East and West, as well as a 3000-kilometer coastline, South Africa is undoubtedly one of the world’s foremost maritime nations. Its portfolio of maritime assets, from the world’s largest bulk coal terminal port in Richards Bay, Africa’s busiest port in Durban (also the largest container facility in Southern Africa), Africa’s largest refrigerated container facility in Port of Cape Town, and the deepest container terminal in Africa at the Port of Ngqura, reflects the fact that South Africa is among the top 15 countries that trade by sea, with over 96 percent of the country’s trade (in volume) moving by sea.

“South African ports handle approximately 12,000 ships and approximately 300 million tons of cargo annually.”

Sindisizwe Chikunga, Deputy Minister of Transport

Deputy Minister of Transport Sindisizwe Chikunga reveals, “South African ports handle approximately 12,000 ships and approximately 300 million tons of cargo annually.” For this reason, South Africa has adopted the Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy (CMTP) with the objective to develop South Africa to be an International Maritime Centre, which will also allow for further amendments to existing legislation such as the Merchant Shipping Act in line with our current national maritime interests and those of the IMO and the African Union.

As Sobantu Tilayi, acting CEO of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), shares, “An excellent indication of how we are perceived internationally regarding maritime matters is the fact that we have consistently remained as a member of the International Maritime Organization Council since 1999.”

Much of this international reputation stems from South Africa’s ability to provide safety assurance to international shipping along the South African coastline. This comes from both extensive experience of dealing with maritime disasters and a commitment to investing in new technology. For this reason, South Africa leads the way in Africa on several port-based innovations such as pilotage transfer by helicopter, locally built harbour tugs and new dredgers commissioned into service with future dredgers to be built locally. The country also manages and maintains a system of aids to navigation including lighthouses, a fully-fledged Marine Hydrographic Service, as well as Emergency Response Capacity, which includes a Search and Rescue Centre, Emergency Towing Vessels, Information and Communication Systems. Tilayi highlights, “We are the only country in this part of the world able to combine aviation and maritime search and rescue.”

Ironically, South Africa’s maritime expertise comes from the challenging Metocean conditions that have given the country its moniker, Cape of Storms. Tilayi elaborates, “We have a very problematic, unshielded coastline. A slight weather disturbance in Antarctica picks up so much energy over the 4.000 kilometers to Cape Town. On top of this, you have the warm Indian ocean coming into contact with the cold Atlantic Ocean in the south, and both taken together means that there is a lot of energy hitting into the South African coastline. Our coastline is also very straight so very little energy is killed.” What exacerbates the danger is that South Africa is no less than 15 days from the nearest possible source of help in the event of a disaster.

Staying ahead of the game is critical because, as Tilayi points out, “while we are strategically located at the halfway point between East and West, the fact remains that it is quicker to go from Singapore and China to Kenya on the East Coast, and from the US to the Gulf of Guinea on the West Coast. South Africa needs to stay relevant and competitive – and the only way to do that is to stay ahead of global developments.”

For Tilayi, the mission is deeply personal. He outlines, “Before I started working with SAMSA, I was in the maritime industry being regulated by SAMSA and to be honest, I used to have running battles with SAMSA. This is what motivated me to join SAMSA. The objective was to create a regulator that will not regulate the industry to its death. My personal belief is that the safest ports are those where no ships come in. The safest coastline is the coastline with no ships. But that is not how life works. For me, what is of paramount importance is striking the right balance between environmental sustainability and economic benefit.

He makes the bold claim that “you cannot think about South Africa without thinking about the maritime.” For this reason, he hopes to build SAMSA into “a highly specialized maritime authority that is systems-driven, and the go-to entity for government advice on maritime matters. We need to be at the forefront of African thinking in maritime development. This is the role that SAMSA can – and must – play.”

Writer: Karen Xi

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