July/August Editorial Comment

MY EDITOR’S COMMENT FROM THE LATEST ISSUE OF MARITIME REVIEW:

Servest cover designThe recent grounding of the Kiani Satu grabbed media headlines towards the beginning of August. Many of the news reports were to be expected: highlighting details of leaking oil; initial unsuccessful refloating attempts; lack of availability of the patrol vessels as well as comments from concerned environmentalists and citizens. There were those, however, who seemed to use the floundering vessel as a platform to try refloat issues that have long been scuppered by factual evidence. 

Take the media report that focused on comments made by the Chairperson of the Fisheries Portfolio Committee, Lulu Johnson for example.  Mr Johnson chose to lay blame for the lack of readiness of the DAFF patrol vessels at the door of Smit Amandla Marine.

I’ve heard him say it before and he was quoted again saying; “They (Smit Amandla Marine) have got away with murder”.  It is rather a simplistic summation that makes little sense against the almost two-year drama that now surrounds the  cancellation of the vessel management tender; the transfer of the vessels into and then out of the SA Navy – and the current contract which aims to get the vessels operational again.

Documents and reports exist in the public domain clearly disputing this “fact” that Johnson is so determined to  try to qualify. His argument that Smit Amandla Marine handed over a fleet of unseaworthy vessels has even been disputed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) themselves.

So, Mr Johnson, here are some facts for you to consider. At the time of the vessel handover from Smit, independent third party marine surveyors were contracted to verify the condition and inventories of the vessels. In addition, DAFF was provided with a full risk assessment, which raised a number of concerns the company had.

They specifically emphasised the risks associated with the Africana and DAFF was warned about the consequences of laying the vessels up “inappropriately”. At the time of the handover, the vessels were seaworthy and all statutory certificates were valid.

It would, however, be accurate to note that the vessel is old and that, as admitted by Smit Amandla Marine at the time, she did require some key maintenance work including a main engine overhaul, pipe work, hydraulic and steel work as well as an overhaul of the onboard electronic systems.

That these projects were not carried out is not due to mismanagement by the previous vessel management service provider, but rather due to budgetary constraints of the Department.

Ironically while Mr Johnson was pontificating and accusing the company of murderous actions; the self same company was out at sea in their well-maintained workhorse – the Smit Amandla (previously the John Ross) which is, incidentally, even older than the Africana and still going strong. Called out to the scene of the stricken Kiani Satu under the DOT casualty response contract; the Smit Amandla entered into a Lloyd’s Open Forum (LOF) and shortly thereafter invoked the SCOPIC clause.

What followed was a tremendous effort by authorities, salvors and volunteers to minimise the damage to the coast and to wildlife.

Just over a week later, the vessel was refloated and towed away from the coast.

What Mr Johsnon’s portfolio committee did successfully do was re-awaken media attention to the fact that the DAFF vessels are still not operational. At a joint press conference with Damen in May to announce the contract to affect emergency measures to get the vessels back at sea, Greta Apelgren-Narkedien noted that a period of six months was needed.

Since then the vessel management tender has been announced and the Department has yet to reveal the successful bidder. Factoring in the six months from May – perhaps we can anticipate that this announcement will come sooner rather than later to ensure that the vessels have a new home to go to when eventually certified seaworthy.

Given the controversy that dogged the previous announcement, however, there must certainly be a great deal of pressure for DAFF to get it right with no room for litigation.

The media, the current bidders and the Fisheries Portfolio Committee will be waiting to scrutinise the results.

For Shaheen Moolla, however, the portfolio committee does not have the teeth of a true watchdog – and he seems to describe them as a tame puppy when it comes to their oversight duties. You can read his concerns in this regard on page 8 of this issue.

Perhaps that’s why he has taken it upon himself to act in the capacity of the barking dog next door as he aims to make his neighbours  aware that DAFF’s house is not in order.

We said it last issue, and I’ll say it again: the last few months of this year will vindicate either DAFF or their detractors as deadlines and timelines begin to catch up with them.

Let us know what you think!

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