It is one of four divisions of the Natinal Ports Authority’s (NPA’s) Maritime Services, the others being Lighthouse Services, Ship-repair Services, and Dredging Services.
In turn, Maritime Services is one of the two main businesses of the NPA, the other being Landlord Services; while Landlord Services is responsible for the NPA’s ‘landside’ operations – property and infrastructure management – Maritime Services is responsible for ‘waterside’ operations.
Lighthouse Services, Ship-repair Services and Dredging Services are pretty self-explanatory in their titles; Marine Services, however, has two main elements – marine operations and the office of the harbourmaster.
“Marine operations is the business of assisting ships to move in, out, and around our harbours – the actual shiphandling; we do this through towage services (tugs), pilotage and berthing services,” elucidates Marine Services executive manager Tsietsi Mokhele.
While the tugs physically manoeuvre the ships by towing or pushing, pilots take control of the ships and guide them into and out of port, and berthing services comprise the quayside teams which moor and unmoor the ships.
In all, Marine Services employs about 1 068 people.
“Our biggest technical skills area is pilotage – we have 72 pilot posts countrywide, and there are six different categories of pilotage licence, from ‘entry’ to ‘unrestricted’,” he states.
To move from the first ‘entry’ category to the fifth (the one below ‘unrestricted’) takes a minimum of four years.
“There is no direct entry for pilots – the career path is cadet, tugmaster, then pilot,” he points out.
“Again, there are different categories of tugmaster, and to be a qualified tugmaster you need to have four years’ experience,” he adds.
While there is only one licence for tugmaster, the profession is subdivided in terms of the size of the tug they may command, with junior tugmasters commanding the smallest tugs and senior tugmasters the largest (Marine Services currently has a fleet of 24 tugs, divided into three categories).
There are 68 tugmaster positions in the country.
“As more and more larger ships are calling at our ports we need bigger tugs, commanded by senior tugmasters, so there are greater and greater burdens on our senior tugmasters, and junior tugmasters are less required,” Mokhele reveals.
“So we are doing a lot of training,” he highlights.
The tugs also need engineers.
“We have 68 chief marine engineers and, by law, one must be on every tug at all times,” explains Mokhele.
The chief marine engineers are assisted by (junior) marine engineers. The engineer career path can lead, after the chief engineer grade, to technical management and then management.
“The office of the harbour master is responsible for safety, for aids to navigation (like buoys), for vessel traffic services (the nautical equivalent of air-traffic control) and for port control,” reports Mokhele.
Each port has a harbour master (previously called a port captain), supported by one or more deputy harbour masters (Durban and Cape Town each have three deputy harbour masters), with a chief harbour master heading the national office.
“We have one chief harbour master and seven harbour masters in South Africa,” he states.