The Department of Transport has accelerated the process of finalising the Maritime Transport Policy, which is expected to take effect by mid-year, according to Deputy Transport Minister Sindiwe Chikunga, who told Engineering News on the sidelines of the inaugural eThekwini Maritime Cluster Summit that the Department of Transport hoped to submit a draft document of the policy to Parliament for public comment by March.
Delivering the keynote address at the Durban-based summit on Thursday, Chikunga told delegates that the policy would guide the maritime industry and other institutions on the country’s vision for developing the maritime sector within the ambit of Operation Phakisa.
“One of the key drivers of the growth for the maritime sector, as set out in Operation Phakisa, is the growth of the number of ships on South Africa’s ship register,” she said, highlighting the correlation between the number of ships on the register and the growth of maritime-related services.
“The number of seafarers employed would also greatly increase. Last year, three cargo vessels were registered on the South African ship register, the first since 1983.”
Chikunga added that she felt a great deal had been achieved through the provision of tax breaks to international ship owners, but that the department had neglected to apply this incentive to local ship owners and that the department was currently dealing with this.
She further pointed out that continued growth of the South African ship register would be an important catalyst for the growth of ship repair and maintenance services in South Africa. Operation Phakisa has seen the commissioning of new tug vessels benefit local ship builders and the supporting value chain, while other initiatives were in the pipeline to see vessel construction and boat building taking place on all the major ports along the South African coastline.
Chikunga noted that recent International Maritime Organisation (IMO) reports had identified a current seafarer shortage of 498 000, dating back to 2008, with an officer shortfall of 34 000. Currently, this shortfall stands at over 100 000 globally, representing an opportunity for employment creation over and above the requirements linked to the growth of the South African ship register.
Chikunga said that the summit had come at a time when South Africa faced some of the harshest economic conditions recorded in 50 years, with the Durban maritime sector facing similar challenges to the global one, as well as some that were unique to South Africa.
She described the Port of Durban as the “crown jewel” of the South African port system, but noted it was not globally competitive when benchmarked against other international ports.
She said that the Port of Durban had received about a quarter (27%) of all capex spend in the port system over the last five years and should see a renewed focus on getting more through the port, with the same infrastructure in future.
“In short, the ports in the South African system will be required to do more with less to provide the maximum value for our people,” she said.
Chikunga warned that competition was intensifying. Egypt had widened the Suez Canal and ships destined for the Western and European markets could now pass through the canal, denying South Africa the traffic that would otherwise have circumnavigated the Cape.
Further, Kenya and Tanzania were considering projects to expand their port infrastructure, opening up access to the Eastern and Central Region of Africa. Thus, cargo that was currently coming through the Port of Durban and transported via road or rail could, in future, be routed through Kenya or Tanzania, further reducing the business of the Port of Durban.
This, together with the reduction in trade by China, represented “an interesting challenge”, as various stakeholders investigated how a smart port concept that included state-of-the-art technology, ‘smart’ planning and a closer development interface between port operators and the city, could make Durban more competitive and efficient.
“A smart port city implies that the port of Durban has to be at the forefront of technology and technological developments. It has to present dynamic integrated port and maritime industries that enhance the coexistence of ports and urban areas, integrating them into a seatropolis and creating programmes and projects that engage citizens and encourage development,” she explained.
Chikunga further noted that Operation Phakisa continued to grow. “The aquaculture initiatives continue to attract domestic and foreign investment [and] the close link between Durban and coastal life and living means that the coastline also has great potential for growing South Africa’s farmed protein output, reducing its reliance on wild-capture fishing over time.”