Weekly Press Review – 28 February 2014

Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson finally made the announcement this week that fishermen who lost their traditional linefish rights at the end of 2013 will be allowed to continue fishing until the end of April 2014.

The Minister said,”There do seem to be legitimate concerns either relating to poor administration of the applications or questionable judgements by the delegated officers.  I do want to deal with these questions of propriety before I can consider any appeals that may be lodged.”

I think that most people would agree that firstly, this was a very mild summing up of the problems that have plagued the fishing rights allocation process and also that it seems far too little, too late for those fishermen who are struggling to maintain their livelihoods.

We will see what the minster comes back with after “”dealing with” these questions and whether the process shall then continue as is or, as many are calling for, be completely re-examined.  Perhaps a fresh start is what is called for.   Certainly many lessons can be learnt from the errors of the last 12 months alone.

After listening to a variety of radio reports about a grounded vessel yesterday that all seemed to get the news incorrect; it was reported in the press that a Hout Bay-based crayfish boat ran aground near Betty’s Bay resulting in the death of one man.

Unfortunately the vessel, Connect, ran aground in a Marine Protected Area and the resulting  10,000 litre diesel spill is endangering the nearly 4,000 penguins and other seabirds and animals in the area.

Justin Lawrence, spokesman for Cape Nature said, “What makes the situation dangerous is the fact that the diesel is not visible, therefore, we cannot determine how far it has spread.  We are trying to rescue as many penguins and seabirds as we can.“

The vessel is also believed to be carrying 80 litres of engine oil.

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Weekly Press Review -21 February 2014

The name Arnold Bengis has made its way back into the South African press this week as the former Hout Bay fishing magnate is suing the South Africa government for $11 million (R121m) for the part that they played in assisting the United States courts to jail him for smuggling in 2003, as well as for having to pay $22.5 million restitution to the government.

In 2003 Bengis, his son David and his former business partner, Jeffrey Noll, were arrested in the US on charges of conspiracy to smuggle South African lobster and Patagonian toothfish into the US.  In 2004, all three were sentenced to jail time and have since served their time.  Now living in the United Kingdom, all three accused have brought an application against the South African government, three cabinet minsters, the former legal adviser of fisheries and members of the former Scorpions, saying that the assistance that the US criminal prosecution received from these parties was unconstitutional and unlawful.  They are claiming $11 351 703 in damages.

I am no legal expert, but these men were caught, tried, found guilty and convicted of their crime.  They have served their time and this certainly feels like an interesting stretch to essentially challenge this ruling on these grounds.  We shall wait and see where this case goes.

Robben Island has also made the news this week as the issue of the unreliable ferry system to and from the island is finally being addressed.  The Robben Island Museum has invited tenders for two new ferries  with a capacityof 150 to 180 passengers.  The museum’s chief executive, Sibongiseni Mkhize said, “We have had problems with our operations in December and the council took a decision to look to the market and procure new vessels.  We realised that our current operational model is not working.”

A tender opportunity of this magnitude will certainly be of interest to the local shipbuilding community.

State of the Maritime Industry Address

I am not going to comment on the State of the Nation Address (SONA) made last week by President Jacob Zuma except to say I did hear him mention the maritime industry as he acknowledged the importance of the fishing industry; the need to develop our ports and the focus on oil and gas for the development of Cape Town and Saldanha Bay. I am, however, going to comment on a speech made the night before SONA by Commander Tsietsi Mokhele, CEO of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

Anyone who has ever listened to the CEO speak will know that he is constantly pushing the South African maritime agenda – and it seems that, while there is still much to be done, a lot of groundwork has been covered.

State of Maritime Industry

Here are a few highlights of his speech:

TREASURY TICKS OFF TAXATION: Mokhele highlighted the decision by South African Treasury last year to remove all forms of taxation on shipping. “I never thought in my living days that I would see South Africa Treasury moving on shipping tax when we have waited and worked so hard on the tonnage tax,” he said adding that although the industry was willing to accept a nominal tax, this gesture to help develop the industry was welcomed. Treasury has shaved tax contributions of seafarers; removed taxation on the sale of assets; and paved the way for shipping companies to trade in any international currency.

“I never thought in my living days that I would see South Africa Treasury moving on shipping tax when we have waited and worked so hard on the tonnage tax.”

THE BLUE ECONOMIC STRATEGY: In a similarly positive light, Mokhele reported that Cabinet had approved The Blue Economic Strategy for the country. “It talks to helping improve the lives of our people by taking and leveraging the assets of the industry; the expertise that is there. It is a strategy about development; it is a strategy about progress – and about giving the economy an upliftment,” he said. 

THE AFRICAN MARITIME DECADE: Coupled to the approval of the African Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS) 2050 made by the African Union Commission at the end of January was the announcement that 2015 to 2025 would be dedicated to the maritime industry.

“It means that the maritime sector has arrived where it needed to be. It has become an asset of of our people, politically endorsed, industry recognised opportunities and communities are involved,” said Mokhele.

NATIONAL MARITIME INSTITUTE: Having completed a feasibility study to assess the impact of establishing a National Maritime Institute, SAMSA has successfully concluded a deal with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. On November 12 last year, the University passed a resolution to accept the custodianship of the National Maritime Institute. According to Mokhele, the Institute will be operational from April 1 this year and will coordinate efforts in maritime education. “We are not displacing the existing infrastructure, but providing cohesion in the development of programmes that are geared to the development of technology and innovation,” he said. 

MARINE TOURISM STRATEGY: Understanding that 80 percent of the United States of America’s tourism revenue originates from marine tourism, Mokhele’s announcement that SAMSA would unveil a Maritime Tourism Strategy during the course of the year, makes sense as a strategy to open the maritime sector to new entrants.

“Water programmes sell. They sell real estate, they sell activities, they sell everything – and therefore our marine strategy is going to be inclusive of the tourism strategy that we are going to unveil before the end of this year.”

MARINE MANUFACTURING STRATEGY: Another strategy scheduled to be unveiled during the course of the year is one that speaks to the marine manufacturing sector. Mokhele spoke about the need to develop the capabilities of the ship repair and ultimately the shipbuilding sectors.  Alluding to the potential of gearing up for the offshore oil and gas industry, Mokhele said “South Africa has to gear themselves up to become the hub service centre for the gas industry that is emerging on the east, but also to play a part on the existing oil and gas industry that is already established on the west of the continent.”

CELEBRATING SOUTH AFRICA’S 20 YEARS OF DEMOCRACY: Perhaps the most ambitious plans that Mokhele revealed were those relating to a planned cruise around the African continent. He aims to see an all-female crew navigate the SA Agulhas to visit nations in Africa that supported the liberation of South Africa. The cruise aims to also set up a fund for the development of women in Africa’s maritime sectors. SAMSA will approach industry to help sponsor this initiative.

SAMIC IS BACK ON THE CALENDAR: If you remember the landmark conference initiated by SAMSA in 2012, you may be pleased to hear that it is scheduled to return to the calendar in October this year. It will be a good opportunity to report back on resolutions taken at the last edition and decide whether the industry, government and other stakeholders have stepped up to the plate to see real development of the industry.

While these topics remain the highlights of Tsietsi Mokhele’s speech, he also spoke of the success of the cadetship programme; the ambitions to see ships return to the ships registry as well as the interest from various shipping companies to source South African seafarers to crew their fleets.

Yes, he told a good story, but we still all need to roll up our sleeves and get back to work. It makes no sense to endlessly debate the merits of a report back if we are not prepared to go back to our desks – irrespective of our views – and make things happen.

Weekly Press Review – 14 February 2014

The fishing rights allocation process made headlines again this week as a discussion of a report by the fisheries department, explaining the controversial allocation process, was not discussed by the portfolio committee as scheduled.

The reason:  the appeals process is still not 100 percent complete and the report is, therefore, still  regarded as “a work in  progress.”

Needless to say there were angry responses from both DA MPs Pieter van Dalen and Annette Steyn.  They both described the urgency with which the allocation process needed to be discussed, saying there was a “crisis out there” as many fishers lost their livelihoods at the end of last year.

It is shocking that a situation which obviously requires immediate attention is not met with the urgency that is necessary to resolve the issues as quickly as possible.

In some sad news this week, a Department of Environmental Affairs technician, involved in an expedition on Gough Island has died.  Johannes Hoffman, aged 36, apparently choked on his own vomit and doctors on site were unable to save him.

Colleagues who worked with Hoffman are obviously in shock and are receiving counseling from a psychologist who is also charged with bringing Hoffman’s body back to Cape Town.

Of course, today’s media attention will focus on the president’s State of the Nation Address last night – which did at least nod in the direction of the maritime industry by mentioning the importance of the fishing industry; progress relating to port development as well as the imminent importance of the offshore oil and gas industries to Saldanha Bay and Cape Town.

 

Weekly Press Review – 7 February 2014

Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), the SA Revenue Service (SARS) and the SA Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) are reported to be working together to finalise “benefits that would be flourished to vessels bearing a South African flag.” (sic)  The purpose of the exercise, obviously, to attract companies to the South African ships register.

The authorities are looking for a collection of benefits from various sources, not only port-related benefits.  Tau Morwe, TNPA chief executive, said:  “We could look at benefits such as berthing priority.  We could look at benefits in terms of port costs and benefits of what actually happens in ports.”

It would seem that things are moving in a positive direction with regard to securing vessels for the South African ships’ registrar.  The major players are  working together to come up with a plan that will really excite, inspire and motivate ship owners to look at the South African ships registry as a realistic and preferred option.

This week, the Italian flagship aircraft carrier, Cavour, docked in Cape Town on a truly humanitarian mission.  The vessel is functioning as a mobile hospital.  In conjunction with the Red Cross and the Operation Smile, the staff of 40 volunteer medical professionals on board are here to perform free facial surgeries on children born with cleft lips and palates.

Italy’s ambassador to South Africa, Vincenzo Schioppa, said, “This is not a ship for war.  This is a ship for peace, a ship for friendship and for collaboration.”

Australia’s shark culling programme made headlines again this week as a group of South African protesters gathered outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre to protest the culling.  It is good to see South Africans supporting wildlife concerns in other countries, although I suspect the demonstration would have made little impact on Australian shores.  Interesting that we do not see much protesting to protect our own endangered wildlife being “culled “on an almost daily basis.

Finally, the South Africa Ship Society hosted a viewing of the documentary “Nazi Titanic” earlier this week.  We invite those present to please offer some feedback.