Shark boy inspires DEA Minister

Sharing the platform at yesterday’s launch of National Marine Week, Achmat Hassiem – aka shark boy – stole much of the limelight as he motivated learners to pursue their dreams. But he also managed to capture the attention of the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, who attempted to persuade him to share his motivation with public servants and inspire them in their work.

Achmat survived a harrowing shark attack in 2006. The incident resulted in the loss of one of his lower legs, but failed to see him lose his spirit to pursue his dream of representing South Africa on the international sporting stage. He went on to compete in the Para Olympics and in 2012 won a bronze medal in the pool. He currently holds a number of world records in swimming – and champions the conservation of sharks when he speaks to audiences around the world.

The learners at the function clung to every word of his story as he described, in detail, the terrifying experience of coming face to face with a 4.7 m shark. Tall, muscular, fit and clearly ambitious and driven to succeed, Achmat was also clear in his message that life is to be lived and enjoyed.

Before delivering her keynote address, Minister Molewa spent a number of minutes addressing the shark-boy as he became known in swimming circles. She asked him to leave the international audiences and concentrate on delivering his message to the public servants of South Africa.

It’s clear that she feels our administrators could benefit from his message – and who would not agree that public servants get a little shot of enthusiasm to help them cope with the rigours of their daily work. Achmat certainly helped me aim to peal away a layer of complacency!


Maritime Newsmaker of the Year 2013

Last night we hosted our annual function to thank clients for their valuable support as well as to present the Maritime Newsmaker of the Year Award. The award aims to recognise individuals, companies or organisations that have garnered media attention that depicts the maritime industry in a positive way. It recognises those who have successfully showcased the industry to a wider mass audience – and in so doing have positively marketed the industry as a potential employer or career opportunity to a new generation.

Last year something happened that took me by surprise. Suddenly the world and the media became fascinated with the maritime skills and expertise of a South African who had been hand-picked to lead one of the most publicised wreck removal projects of recent years.

Locally and internationally he suddenly became a maritime celebrity as he showcased not only his own knowledge and expertise, but assembled a team of South African individuals and companies to lift the Costa Concordia under the watchful eye of the world.

Television and print media flocked to the sight of the wreck and Nick Sloane and his team must have generated more airtime and print space for the significant talent that we have than any marketing campaign could have dreamed of doing. Notwithstanding the tragedy of the shipwreck; the ensuing story of maritime ingenuity is a good one to tell.

My hope is that many of our youth would have been awoken to the wide variety of potential careers that are open to them in the industry. Careers that are demanding but immensely rewarding.

But I guess the day I happened to pick up a GQ magazine at a guesthouse to find Nick Sloane staring back at me, was the day I really realised he had helped capture media attention for maritime news that extended beyond the normal tragic story of a shipwreck to give people a real glimpse into the salvage, diving, engineering and pollution prevention sectors that seldom get a media nod of approval.

Unfortunately Nick was still on site at the wreck and remains focused on the job at hand – and so could not join us last night to receive the award. He did, however, send this message:

“I am extremely humbled to be named such a figure and would like to accept this on behalf of all South Africans involved in the offshore and salvage industry. I believe that our seamanship and work ethics are starting to be appreciated on a global basis. I would also like to thank my wife Sandra and three children for allowing me to follow my passion. From all 330 team members on the Costa Concordia at this time thank you for thinking of us in this way. I hope that we refloat mid July and that I can get home by August.” -: NICK SLOANE

Tina took two hours of my time

I  wasted almost two hours of my Sunday by responding to Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s invitation to a press briefing to discuss her response to the Public Protector’s report: Docked Vessels.

  • 25 minute drive to town
  • 10 minutes to park and get through parliament security
  • 10 minutes wait
  • 2 minute introduction to panel
  • 6 minutes to read press statement in English
  • 6 minutes to read press statement in Afrikaans
  • 7 minutes of largely inadequate question and answer time
  • 30 seconds of shutting books and watching the panel high tailing it out of the room
  • 10 minutes leaving parliament and returning to car
  • 25 minutes drive home

The Minister should note that should she just wish to issue a statement, that the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries’ website would probably be an appropriate place to publish a press statement. Should she wish to ensure that the journalists saw this – she could even go as far as asking her communications team to send it to their list of relevant reporters.

But to call a press conference and essentially thwart any real engagement with the journalists present is a waste of her time; the panels’ time (consisting of legal counsel and senior communications officers from the Department) and our time too.

And so what was the ultimate crux of newsworthy information at the core of her statement?

“I will be asking the North Gauteng High Court to declare that the Report including the findings and recommendations, are reviewed, corrected and/or set aside.”

Any real questions from the floor were shut down and many left unanswered such as:

  • Has she discussed the report with the president?
  • Should the report, in the main, found to be accurate and should she be appointed in her current position after the elections, would she step down?
  • What of the lack of patrol capacity and state of illegal fishing currently continuing in our waters?

I look forward to reading what the reporters from the dailies write in tomorrow’s paper and will continue to follow the progress of this story as it now proceeds into our court system.


Weekly Press Review – 16 August 2013

The Fisheries Department is back in the hot seat this week (again) with officials again being criticised for still not getting the country’s research and patrol vessels back in the water.

Acting Fisheries Department deputy director-general, Desmond Stevens had the rather unenviable task of updating parliament on the status of the vessels and assured those present that both the Ruth First and Victoria Mxenge were ready for action and merely waiting seaworthy certificates from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and that the Lilian Ngoyi would be ready to sail by the end of September. Various MPs stated that they would be waiting on the dock at Simon’s Town to board the vessel on the promised date.

Let us hope that the Fisheries Department can deliver this time. It would seem that the pressure is finally on.

The stranded Kiani Satu has remained in the press all week as all attempts to refloat the vessel, still stranded off the coast of Buffels Bay, have thus far failed. According to Captain Nigel Campbell, responsible for overseeing the salvage operation for SAMSA, it is the strong swell due to harsh weather conditions that is hampering the refloating process.

Obviously the oil that is still leaking from the damaged vessel remains a cause for concern and Parliament’s portfolio committee has called for harsher penalties to be imposed on those responsible for the pollution of local waters in an attempt to protect fish and marine life resources.

This is something that could really go a long way towards protecting our coastline. Let us hope that the powers that be are able to come up with a plan that can be implemented fairly and quickly.

There was also some maritime drama off the coast of Robben Island this week, as the crew of the fishing trawler Claremont, had to be rescued after the vessel crashed into the rocks along the island’s coastline.

The rescue operation was carried out over four hours by the NSRI and all 12 crew members were safely brought back to shore. Another successful NSRI operation.

It seems that the salvage season has started in Cape Town.

Leaving PE on the SA Agulhas II

Nelize Ernst and I joined the SA Agulhas II at the end of her “shakedown cruise” to experience first-hand how the new vessel is handling and accommodating her research crew.

Leaving Port Elizabeth by moonlight.

Leaving Port Elizabeth harbour last night under the guidance of the (almost) full moon was nothing less than spectacular as the vessel was guided through the harbour mouth by the harbour tugs. The pilot was soon hopping across from the SA Agulhas and we were left to head out to sea on a perfect winter’s night.

You can refer to our May/June issue of the magazine for all the real technical aspects of the ship and her specifications, so I am going to concentrate on our experience here.

Having already explored most areas of the vessel when she docked in Cape Town in May, we left many of the other new guests to clamber around the ship while we settled in and aimed to find a few areas that we had not yet discovered.

Did you know that the vessel has a sauna on board – a gift from the Finnish builders? It’s obviously quite small, but perfectly designed to work aboard a ship. As a neighbour to the small gym, these facilities do give crew and researchers the opportunity to get some exercise. And after already eyeing the menus on offer for each meal – they may very well need to use them on a long cruise.

The monkey island provided a welcome surprise too. Fully enclosed, the area is far from the usually windy, cold vantage spot on most other vessels. Comfortable chairs, a work top area and vistas of views behind floor to ceiling windows make the SA Agulhas II’s monkey island a pleasant place to spot birds and sea life.

But with the bar about to open in the Miriam Makeba lounge and a short opportunity to get to socialise with some of the other people on board, we hurried down to enjoy the stylish comfort of the lounge area. Although all commercial vessels are required to be dry ships, the SA Agulhas II does carry a complement of passengers and therefore does offer a short period when the bar is open and serving (very reasonably priced drinks).

The actual crew (in this case from Smit Amandla Marine), of course, do not drink!

The accommodation itself is comfortable and practical.  We did manage sneak a peak at the rather spacious Captain’s quarters before retiring to our four-berth cabin. But our cabin packs a punch in terms of what it delivers for its small size. With two bunk beds, a three-seater couch, small flat screen television, cupboard space, desk and en-suite facilities, this cabin makes some crew accommodation I have seen look positively shabby.

Tired and lulled towards sleep by the gentle rocking motion of the vessel, it was lights out, blinds down and eyes closed for us way before the bewitching hour!

Conference Call rocks maritime sector

There are conferences aplenty in South Africa and Africa that plug into the maritime domain, but this week’s South African Maritime Industry Conference (SAMIC) hosted by SAMSA can truly be heralded as one that should repower the engines of the maritime industry in the country.

I sat there for the entire conference. I did not miss a minute of it. I ensured that every break-away group had a representative from the magazine in it – and we will publish a thorough and comprehensive report back of SAMIC in the next issue.

For those of you who did not attend and had to rely on newspaper reports of the highlights and headlines relating to the conference, please take comfort in the fact that the news that made it to daily newspapers relating to lack of legislation to bolster a ship registry; loss of bunker only opportunities or our lack of pollution fighting capabilities, should not be seen to represent the the entire focus of the conference. These are all headlines that spotlighted the industry during the SAMIC week and, while I am certainly not dismissing the importance of these facts, we as an industry know we are committed to addressing them, but we should also be able to walk away from the conference knowing that we did more than just air our dirty laundry.

And certainly, while we wont ignore the very real work that needs to be done to address those rather negative headlines; lets reflect on the positives that the conference highlighted:

  • Three Cabinet Ministers stood on the jetty in the V&A Waterfront on a dark cold winter’s morning to watch the SA Agulhas training ship depart with 32 cadets on board. That’s three Ministers who now have  more of a personal glimpse about what the industry can offer to young South Africans.
  • The new Minister of Transport, Ben Dikobe Martins, seemed well briefed and sounded committed to prioritising maritime matters in the Department of Transport.
  • Ruth Bhengu, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Transport invited the industry to “knock on my door” to unblock policy and legislation before parliament.
  • Bridgette Gasa, National Planning Commissioner, admitted that the maritime sector had been “forgotten” in the National Development Plan and agreed to seek to correct the oversight.
  • A complete pipeline of skills development from primary to tertiary level for the maritime industry is being discussed at governmental level.
  • The Petroleum Agency reported that our offshore acreage is well marketed and fully subscribed with either exploration licenses or applications for exploration.  Increased activity in this sector is predicted in the next three to five years.
  • SAMSA launched an Industry Training Fund and raised significant funds directly at the Chairman’s Dinner on the second day of the conference.
  • CEO of SAMSA, Tsietsi Mokhele was summoned to meet with the President on Thursday and returned to alert the industry to the fact that he had proclaimed himself the governor of the Tenth Province to the presidency in an effort to convey the immense importance that the sector holds for the development of South Africa.
  • Entrepreneurs waiting to gain a foothold into the industry, stalwarts of the industry, government agents, neigbouring country officials, NGO’s and industry associations rubbed shoulders, debated, discussed and committed to a robust maritime sector.
  • The atrophy of conference delegates on the Friday afternoon was not significant!

Was SAMIC an all-encompassing solution to every problem facing the industry? Certainly not, but it was an excellent start that challenged the status-quo of conferences as a whole and the industry. We were not subjected to paper after paper, but rather given the opportunity to huddle down and shout out our opinions.

Was SAMIC totally representative of the industry? Well – no, there were a couple of industry players that perhaps should have been involved. Most notably was the absence of any representation from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to engage with the fishing subsector, but there were others as well.

Was SAMIC completely unique in its topic selection? Hell – no, there were issues that have been debated at nausea for more than a decade in the industry, but there seemed to be an underlying will on a higher level than just industry frustration to move forward.

There is still a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of sensitisation to and education about the industry that still needs to happen at government level, but our new governor of the 10th province is the kind of man that has the ability to rally the troops; he has the passion to unite disparate sectors and he certainly seems to have managed to reach the ear of the president.

And for those of us that added our rock to the pile – let us live up to the commitment this symbolised and work to make our 10th province prosperous, influential and peaceful.

MARITIME ROCKS: Delegates at SAMIC were invited to take a rock, write their commitment on it and add it to the pile at the end of Day 2 at the conference.

Don’t sign a petition to save the rhino!

If you’ve ever eaten a crayfish taken illegally out of the sea, please do not sign any anti-rhino poaching petitions. If you’ve ever snuck a perlemoen out the sea or eaten one that has been, please do not sign any anti-rhino poaching petitions. If you’ve ever eaten fish in a restaurant with questionable origins or on the endangered list, please do not sign any anti-rhino poaching petitions. Hell – if you’ve ever littered on a beach, please do not sign any anti-poaching petitions.

Thousands of South Africans are getting behind the plight of the rhino and with good reason. It’s quick and easy to sign a petition or post a facebook status about how outraged you are about the massacre of these animals, but how helpful is this really?

All poaching, illegal harvesting and unregulated fishing is a consequence of market demands. It’s that simple. Without a market, there is no one to supply. The consequences are depleted oceans, deforestation, extinct species and an ailing planet.

Overfishing around the world is being driven by demanding markets willing to pay a premium to satisfy their appetite. Just how different is that to the nature of the rhino poaching problem currently being experienced in South Africa?

The solution? The solution lies in education – in educating the market that demands the product. It’s irrelevant that we in South Africa know that rhino horn is not all it’s cracked up to be – the end user of the product needs to be informed.

So why am I asking you not to sign petitions? By all means go ahead, but please do not be naive about the impact it will have – and when you do add your name to the list, give some thought to your own role in creating market demands that impact the future health of the earth and its species.