An African passport by 2018?

One of the many challenges that the highly mobile people of the maritime industry face is that of accessibility to jurisdictions within Africa. This is particularly frustrating for Africans aiming to work on the African continent and may even hamper emergency response to potential maritime incidents.

Discussions at the recent World Economic Forum meetings in Kigali, Rwanda refocused attention on the idea of introducing an African passport by 2018 – a move that will surely be welcomed by proponents of the maritime industry who face delays when responding to clients’ emergency requirements in other African countries.

Leading a session, South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission, Jeff Radebe, implored delegates to reflect on the continued need for visas in Africa and to meet the 2018 deadline of creating an African passport.

In February this year the African Development Bank released the Africa Visa Openness Report 2016, which highlights the fact that the continent remains largely closed off to African travellers. According to the report:

“On average Africans need visas to travel to 55 percent of other African countries, can get visas on arrival in only 25 percent of other countries and don’t need a visa to travel to just 20 percent of other countries on the continent.”


The clock is ticking on the African Union’s (AU) goal and vision for Africa as set out in Agenda 2063 which envisions the establishment of an African passport and an end to visa requirements for all Africa citizens in Africa by 2018. There are no clear indications from the AU as to the progress that has been made in this regard, but it is clear that it falls within the Union’s Flagship Projects in the First Ten Year Plan.

However, three years into the First Ten Year Plan, many of the goals remain largely aspirational and it is not clear where or what the stumbling blocks would be to the realisation of an African Passport. Common sense, however, suggests that without the reality of a peaceful and secure Africa as envisioned by Agenda 2063 – the likelihood of an agreement on free movement on the continent is more than 18 months away.

Chairperson of the AU, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma writes in her foreword to the report, however: “We believe that the free movement of people is possible, which is why Agenda 2063 calls for the abolition of all visa requirements within the period of the Ten Year Implementation Plan and the creation of an African passport.”

Perhaps regional visas are more realistic in the short term, but  any move to finalise agreements in this regard will certainly be welcomed by the African maritime community.


Conference Call

The fact that “some 90 per cent of trade is carried by sea” is the most over-used statistic at maritime conferences. If you are that way inclined, you may be tempted to create a drinking game out of how many times this is presented during any given conference programme. Maritime professionals just love this fact – we highlight it every chance we get. Enough already!

Use this pearl of wisdom in non-maritime related forums or at dinner parties with your accountant friends where such information is still likely to astound your audience, but for heaven’s sake – those of us working in the industry know this already  – and would counter this as an exact statistic anyway.

Unfortunately this highlights another issue relating to conferences, workshops, exhibitions, summits and expos. There are just so many of them and a great deal of them are pulling the same speakers and addressing the same topics. The question has to be: how do members of the industry choose which event to support and attend without resorting to FOMO* as a decision making tool?

With all due respect to industry-related magazines – we offer little assistance to industry in this regard. Most conferences approach us to be “event partners” to gain some free advertising and promotion before and after the event. In exchange we are offered the opportunity to dish out our magazines; a delegate pass and our logo on their promotional material as a media partner.

Conferences are seldom selective in choosing their media partners and publications usually accept every partnership they are offered – oftentimes with no intention of attending, but with every intention of getting rid of back issues that we are too emotionally attached to to send for recycling.

Make no mistake – there are still some very good conferences on the calendar and not everyone attends these events to absorb presentation after presentation. Often the real value lies in the networking opportunities and the card exchanges. It’s in the opportunity to sit next to someone you have never met before and develop a new connection.

It is, of course, an added bonus if the material presented blows you away. Sadly not much is done by conference organisers to really mould and shape their programmes. I realise it’s probably difficult when they only receive the content of Power Point Presentations at the last minute (and sometimes even as the speaker walks into the conference venue).

But I do feel that the organiser has the responsibility to their delegates (who are often paying a good few thousand to attend) to play a stronger role in content delivery. Not everyone has the ability to develop and present a paper – and the vetting process should go beyond a person’s job title at a specific company or entity.

By way of comparison – it would be like an editor of a magazine accepting article contributions without reading them and simply sending the magazine off to the printer without verifying that content is not repeated; is relevant and of a decent quality.

So my goal for the year is to engage with event organisers and delve a little deeper into what the calendar holds in the hope of providing some definitive feedback to the industry at the end of the year.

*FOMO: Fear OF Missing Out – accepted abbreviation amongst social media platform users. 


TETA is on the take!

The Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA) collects levies from its registered members annually and is tasked to redistribute the money to fund relevant training in the maritime sectors.

So, if you clicked on this blog thinking the title referred to a scandal at the Authority, I hope you will not be too disappointed to learn that the money they are taking from the industry appears to be doing a lot of good.

It’s being channelled into the upliftment of people who probably would not have the means to pursue formal training. It’s helped develop human capital in the maritime sectors. And it’s spurred on many individuals’ ability to progress along career paths.

This is a modern day Robin Hood story

I’ve had the opportunity to interview Malcolm Alexander at TETA twice now. Last week, in his office, I came close to resigning from the magazine and begging him to let me work there. The scope to make a difference is palpable and his energy is infectious. He really believes in the system and trying to make it work for companies as well as individuals.

He is the first to admit, however, that not everything is perfect. But at least they are delivering and people are benefitting. He highlights the significant contributions made by some of the companies in the industry and notes in particular the likes of Talhado Fishing, Sea Vuna and I&J as championship league players in the training game. Malcolm also points out that many registered levy players do not use the system to their advantage and encourages companies to speak to them about the opportunities that exist.

So yes, TETA is on the take, but they’re redistributing what they take into verified training initiatives that are upskilling our sector. If your company is not participating fully within the TETA levy and grant system, watch out for their series of workshops this month around the country to get more information.

So next time you pay across your levy begrudgingly – take a pause and consider the impact that training actually has on the lives of those who receive it. This is truly about building a better South Africa one skill at a time.

The forthcoming issue of Maritime Review will include a look at Education and Training in the Maritime Sector.

Coastline confusion

Can anyone tell me exactly how long South Africa’s coastline is? I am talking about our coastline – excluding any islands that we may have jurisdiction over.

Situated at the southern tip of Africa and surrounded by sea on “three sides,” we like to assume that we have access to a generous coastline, but the actual length does not seem to be cast in stone.

I’ve had the opportunity to dwell on this elusive fact over the last few months while writing and editing a number of pieces for a variety of sources. I was even tempted to take out a length of string and attempt to do something I last did in High School during map work in Geography, but decided rather to spend my evening drinking wine with friends (achieving life/work balance).

But yesterday I received a press release that stretched our coastline to its limits. Apparently South Africa now has “almost 4,000 kilometres” of coastline to be proud of.  And it does not seem that the PR company was adding any offshore coast from island territories to this accumulation.

I am used to receiving press releases that peg the coast at anywhere between 2,500 km and 3,000 km long, so this additional 1,000 kilometres is really a windfall for the country.

Perhaps this is part of Operation Phakisa’s strategy to expand the maritime industry (the press release did allude to this Government-led project), but I am not sure that our neighbours would be too happy with us claiming a portion of their coastline in order to increase our maritime prospects.

So – can anyone tell me the real, undisputed length of our coastline?


Five ways to ditch the important wife

Last week I wrote about the tendency to invite “someone important’s” wife to be the lady sponsor of a new vessel and received a surprising amount of feedback that indicates that many people feel the same way. So here are a few ways to think about choosing someone to break a bottle on the bow.

  1. Find a way to use the honour as an incentive within the company: In other words if you know you are going to launch a vessel in a year’s time, set goals and targets within the company and use it to motivate the team (or more specifically the women in your team).
  2. Create an essay writing or art competition that offers the honour as a prize for a lady learner: Once you have announced the winner, imagine the free publicity for your company as she instagrams the experience to her followers. Boost this by creating a YouTube video that she can share and help focus new eyes on the industry.
  3. Seek a female blogger with a keen interest in the ocean or the maritime world: They’re out there – bloggers and citizen journalists are waiting to talk about their experiences and you can offer them an opportunity that does not come along very often. Trust me, they’ll blog about it and keep blogging about the vessel that they are now intimately attached to as it sails around the globe.
  4. Honour a local/community hero: Keep an eye on the news for those feel-good stories about seemingly ordinary ladies doing extraordinary things and invite them to bless your vessel in the same way they have blessed their communities.
  5. Look for and find that important lady: Yes there are plenty of important men in the maritime world, but there are some important ladies too. Seek them out and put them in the limelight.

Oh – and when you choose the lady sponsor, please make sure that it is abundantly clear to those present why she deserves the honour. A note in your programme will suffice, but certainly a proper introduction from the master (or mistress) of ceremonies will help give her her due.


PS: If all else fails and you are still struggling to find a willing arm to swing the bottle to the bow, please feel free to get in touch.  


Ditch the important wife!

Towards the end of last year there were many vessels entering the water for the first time. As a maritime journalist I generally get invited to these events and I am always fascinated by the choice of lady sponsor on these occasions. The tradition of breaking a bottle of champagne across the bow of the vessel before bestowing good wishes on her and her crew continues to hold strong as does the necessity of bequeathing the honour to a woman.

More often than not, however, the women is still the wife of “someone important” and seldom the “someone important”. While I do not want to go as far as to say that this is a sad indictment on the role that women may be playing (or not playing) in the maritime industry, it does make one pause a little.

It is also testament to the lack of a little bit of imagination in the industry. While the usual designated “important person” at a shipping company may not be a woman – it is highly unlikely that there are absolutely no relevant and deserving women within that company that could be acknowledged in this way. Because being given the honour of this tradition just because you are “someone important’s” wife just seems a little archaic.

I do understand that by asking the “someone important’s” wife to crack the bottle, one is actually honouring his position and that this may be the politically correct move, but wouldn’t it be great if he actually deferred from dragging his wife out to a ship that she may have no interest in and took the opportunity to honour someone more directly involved?

So by all means ask “someone important” if he would like his wife to bless the next ship you launch, but let’s hope against all odds that he may have someone even more directly relevant to that ship’s journey in mind.


Access denied: flirting with the maritime economy?

There’s a general movement that is gaining traction in the maritime sectors that aims to boost the industry’s contribution to job creation and the GDP. The Blue Economy is on everyone’s lips and national, regional, continental and even international strategies are being developed to see our oceans contribute meaningfully to our human desire to produce and prosper.

With so much attention it should, therefore, not be surprising to see a whole new set of eyes flirting with the possibility of developing a long term relationship with the ocean sector. It’s time to give them a dance ticket and allow them onto the dance floor.

At the South African Maritime Industry Conference (SAMIC) organised some three years ago by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), there were people from every sector and plenty who saw themselves as merely standing on the side line hoping for an opportunity to show their moves.

Paul Maclons, Managing Director of Smit Amandla Marine, was unequivocal in his statement during one of the panel discussions at the conference: that the solution for a full and inclusive dance floor was not in promoting the practice of cutting in on existing dancers – but rather on extending the party and mixing it up from the DJ’s box. Well, okay Paul did not mention anything about dancing or DJ’s, but his message was clear – we need to expand the industry to accommodate newcomers.

The truth is though that the industry is expanding and there are more opportunities, but equally the economic reality of a capital-intensive international industry is seeing more consolidation and joint ventures as existing companies seek relationships with other established partners that can offer them the opportunity to extend their own dance cards.

Does that mean that there is no opportunity for newcomers? Are they destined always to be wallflowers?

The quick answer to that has to be NO! There are some newcomers to the industry aiming to show off their signature moves on the dance floor. Our job is not to stop mid beat and point or jeer. Our job is to make sure that there is space for them even if their rhythm is a little different to ours. Our job is to learn a little from the new beat.

This year’s SAMSA Maritime Industry Awards aims to recognise the new dancers on our floor. If you’ve recently launched or know of a company that has launched into our space – please take the time to nominate. It takes courage to start something in any industry and especially into one so entrusted to the “old guard”.