The harbour and offshore services industry should consider ramping up their services to ships passing the South African coast, to about 10% of the total passing traffic, where every ship serviced has a minimum spend of about $10 000, says independent tug and offshore vessel operator Offshore Maritime Services GM Godfrey Needham.
Of the 14 000 ships that transit around South Africa each month, about 500 receive food or essential spare parts that are either sourced locally or airfreighted. These items are brought to the ports of service in Cape Town and Gqeberha, and Durban to a lesser extent.
“Government has the opportunity to create a huge ramp-up in the number of ships taking advantage of this unique service, as every transaction that occurs in support of this sector is funded in US dollars,” he says.
He highlights that government will not need to provide an increase in infrastructure to sustain demand, as this specialist shipping sector has the experience and institutional knowledge, with the ability to render services professionally and reliably.
The only factor that the sector would have to focus on is upskilling new workers to have the necessary skills and qualifications to work on the service vessels providing these services out of the South Africa’s ports. These existing service companies would need to increase their number of crew members threefold more than what the companies currently have.
“This will increase employment right across the value chain, nationally, owing to the increase in the number of passing ships being serviced. These increased employment opportunities cover the actual vessel services operating out of the ports, as well as the land-based services, including transport, hospitality, technical repair services, clearing and forwarding, chandlery, local and international flights, along with so many others – all part of these essential round-the-clock services,” notes Needham.
State-owned freight logistics utility Transnet subsidiary Transnet National Ports Authority should make dedicated spaces available for these launch services companies, where they can operate their vessels from, and receive and load the various consignments of materials for delivery to their client ships offshore.
“Every ship that passes our ports has to come back on its return voyage. If we can provide a great service for a shipping owner on the first trip to our ports, the owner will come back and, possibly, send the rest of the ships in the fleet to use our Off Port Limits (OPL) services.
“With more and more ships passing our shores using these OPL services, the market will create a self-sustaining growth pattern,” he explains.
Needham explains that, despite Covid-19, the number of ships using these OPL services has increased in the past two years.
The Department of Transport has also been “revolutionary” in allowing international seafarers to transit through the South African ports to use the OPL services offered to these ships being serviced. With over 90% of global trade being conducted by merchant ships, South Africa is perfectly positioned to offer this critically required service to the biggest market available. Any merchant ship – tankers, bulk carriers, container ships, gas carriers – on east/west trading routes, not using the Suez Canal, will pass within 20 miles of the ports of South Africa.
South Africa has the potential to become the essential service centre in the international shipping trade routes. It can “meet all of these ships, halfway along every voyage”, as the country is perfectly positioned to service ships coming from North America, around Africa, and then to the Far East and Australia, while the ships from the Middle East transiting around Africa to West Africa or Europe will all have a more cost-effective solution for their victualling, essential airfreighted spares and crew change requirements.
The airport and flight taxes, the company taxes paid by every participating South African company, the increased employment numbers all paying their taxes, all paid for exclusively by the end-user, make this sector of the ports and shipping industries a valuable asset to the South African fiscus.
“We are able to meet every one of these ships with specific requirements and every single item supplied has a real benefit to South Africa. This country’s marine industry has a huge capability to render services to the international shipping trade and grow the numbers conservatively to just 10% of the total market, from the 3% to 5% currently, would conservatively spread R2.5-billion annually across the country-wide value chain,” says Needham.
He adds that increasing these numbers will have “a great knock-on-effect” and will boost the image of Brand South Africa internationally and particularly in the international shipping market.
Further, all companies that operate oil tankers which Offshore Maritime Services has serviced, have an extremely high level of vetting and protocols that OPL service companies have to subscribe to and perform within the requirements of shipping protocols. This OPL service company is vetted and tested quite regularly.
“We are servicing all of these various ships and tankers and we are proud to state that we always meet their high global standards,” he says. “As long as every such OPL service company in South Africa complies with these standards of excellence, the positive reputation, reliability of service and upward growth of this sector is assured.”
Offshore Maritime Services would like to collaborate with all the relevant South African authorities and consular officers to allow government the opportunity to ‘sell’ these nationally important services through our Embassies and consular offices at trade fairs and inter-government liaisons globally.
The company would like government authorities to assist in promoting awareness, such as at shipping conventions, to show that this facility exists and can be taken full advantage of, Needham concludes.