International Maritime Day: an opportunity lost!

Today we celebrated International Maritime Day in South Africa. It’s a great way to elevate maritime matters and showcase the potential that the various industry sectors have to offer the South African economy and employment landscape. It’s a wonderful opportunity for industry and government to come together to prove that each is serious about realising the opportunities that still exist.

So it is somewhat disappointing to sit in the airport after leaving the festivities in Richards Bay feeling a little deflated. Yesterday’s Maritime Skills Summit was a wonderful introduction to herald in this day, but today’s parade of speeches from the Department of Transport and other invited as well as uninvited speakers (with the exception of the always eloquent Tsietsi Mokhele) simply did not give the industry the attention it deserves.

And so, as I reflect on the call from some in the industry to move towards the establishment of a dedicated Ministry of Maritime Affairs, I must admit I may well get behind this call. That the Department of Transport chose to launch October as Transport month at this function is still understandable, but to allow almost the entire proceedings of International MARITIME day to be dominated by road safety issues, speed limit debates and even the seemingly impromptu advertorial for Santaco Airlines is quite unforgivable.

In retrospect I should not be surprised. At last night’s Maritime Skills Summit dinner the Department of Transport’s banner on the stage boldly advertised the Arrive Alive (road safety) campaign – and not one of their roll-up banners in the hall of the venue today related to anything vaguely maritime until the one lone banner was revealed as the Minister launched Transport Month.

Even on this banner our industry was rather side-lined as the “maritime” picture amongst the other transport-related imagery depicted a stack of containers that may well have been taken at Gauteng’s “inland port”.

Sigh – but one has to give the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) their due. They are almost a lone drummer in the wilderness that is government and are beating a passionate rhythm for our industry.

And so surely; if we can separate Higher Education into a separate ministry that can work towards progressing the much needed change in this sphere – surely we can move maritime matters from all the disparate departments that regard them only as periphery issues into a Maritime Department that can truly advance the vision that Commander Tsietsi Mokhele is so passionately advocating.

P.S. Industry needs to show up and be counted on such days as well.

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