#BringBackOurSeafarers

Over the last few weeks the Bring Back Our Girls (#bringbackourgirls) campaign has ignited quite a following across the globe. Initially fueled by many people’s outrage that the media had all but ignored the story, this grew to a lambasting of international super-powers for not stepping in to assist Nigeria find the girls. Mostly the argument followed the rather simplistic course that, if this had happened to 200 white schoolgirls the media would have been all over it and that if it was a situation that jeopardised America’s access to oil then they would have sent in the troops.

This is not the place to debate either of these suppositions and certainly the plight of these girls is one of grave concern. Indeed the message to Bring Back Our Girls has gone viral and everyone is standing up in support of it: from the ANC Women’s league to individuals keen to pen, blog and tweet about it to get in on the action. Even corporates are parading employees in front of cameras and posting photos of them holding up signs with the Bring Back Our Girls message on them – some of them in the maritime industry.

So damn it – where is the #BringBackOurSeafarers campaign? Why is every shipping company, support company, port company, importer, exporter and seafarer not jumping up and down for more media coverage about the plight of 54 seafarers who are still being held hostage in deplorable conditions. According to the recently released document on the State of Maritime Piracy by Oceans Beyond Piracy these seafarers have been held in captivity for almost three years.

“Substantial work must still be done in the interest of saving the lives of the 54 high risk hostages who remain in pirate captivity almost three years after their capture. Moreover, the continued ability of pirates to hijack small vessels such as dhows and fishing vessels is a continued risk. It is important to remember that piracy is not only a threat to the free flow of goods, but also to the well-being of individual seafarers, regardless of their vessel size or nationality. It is evident that the number of hostages in captivity, while trending downward, remains of immediate relevance to counter-piracy work and should be prioritized by the maritime and international communities,” the report says. 

While I am personally doubtful of the true effectiveness of viral campaigns such as the one directed at releasing the Nigerian schoolgirls and feel they simply help us feel better about being powerless in the face of such atrocities; what if they are even slightly successful in seeing their safe return as a global eye is turned to the situation?

What if viral campaigns do prompt the appropriate action? Then the maritime industry needs to be more active in pushing the agenda. Yes we have had successful intervention at sea in the form of naval presence, armed guards and vessel hardening – but 54 seafarers are still no closer to going home. So as you spare a thought for the schoolgirls and their families – spare a thought for those seafarers and their families and consider some action. #BringBackOurSeafarers.

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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.

WARNING: Women at Work!

As I prepare to put my feet up for Women’s Day tomorrow and scroll through the many newsfeeds I follow on social networks, I am suddenly reminded that the “thing to do” in media is to couple content planning to calendar events such as this. So let’s take a moment to reflect on the feminine demographic in the maritime industry.

When I started reporting on the industry way back in the mid 1990’s there were not many ladies at sea and few holding positions of any real maritime significance ashore. I remember visiting a Captain on his ship and being subjected to a bout of misplaced chivalry as he opened the doors while I had to squeeze passed his sizeable belly in the narrow passages to enter first. I remember interviewing a Managing Director of a reputable maritime company and being told at the end of an hour: “I’m sorry I did not get your name – I was too busy looking at your breasts”. And I remember meeting with a potential freelance writer for the magazine, who was himself an old salt, and him casually remarking “I’ve never worked with anyone like you before” as he gave me  a very obvious once over.

Thankfully things have changed considerably since then.

The maritime industry, however,  was not unique in its chauvinistic behaviour and now, as it did then, simply continues to be a microcosm of life ashore. Certainly there has been a shift towards attracting women into seafaring positions – similar to most professions “traditionally” associated with male dominance, but I struggle to see a real demographic gender shift at board level of the majority of maritime companies.

We’re happy to send our girls to sea; we’ll even claim bragging rights when a handful of them move up the seafaring ranks – but we are yet to see real progress within top management structures.

Now, I am the first to say that women should not be appointed to simply tick a box on some score card somewhere, but surely there are ladies of significance ready to step into these positions within our industry?

Oh – and the next time you need to have a lady break a bottle of bubbly over the hull of your newbuild, don’t simply invite the wife of some important man – look for that woman of significance in the industry and give her the honour. Because there are some truly innovative, smart, courageous, talented and forward thinking women at work in this industry.

Happy Women’s Day to all in the maritime industry – whether ashore or at sea!

 

 

All hands on deck!

Scrubbing the decks of the Lord Nelson.

Scrubbing the decks of the Lord Nelson.

I recently had the opportunity to lend a hand. I joined a group of volunteers on board the Lord Nelson in the port of Cape Town where all hands on deck was literally the mantra of the day.

It all started when I received a number of press releases from Norton Rose that highlighted their involvement with the Jubilee Sailing Trust and, specifically, their connection to the tallship, the Lord Nelson.

Intrigued by the uniqueness of the vessel’s mandate to offer sailing opportunities to both able-bodied and disabled sailors alike, I jumped at the chance to experience the true ethos of the vessel first hand and soon found myself signing up for a day of hard labour.

Perhaps not making the best of first impressions, I arrived a little late only to find that my fellow volunteers were already hard at work and looking in control of things. Greeted by four fellow deckhands in red Norton Rose shirts, I soon discovered that the notion of working on a vessel in Cape Town’s harbour was appealing enough for the staff at Norton Rose to vie for the opportunity via an office competition

Tina Costas, Jeremy Brown and Jonathan Levine of Norton Rose were joined by Gavin Maggott from the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) who, by the end of the day, had confirmed that maneuvering around the vessel in a wheelchair was more than feasible.

It’s clear from the moment you step on board that the vessel has been modified to accommodate wheelchairs and those with physical disabilities. Dedicated wheelchair lifts ensure that all crewmembers can access all areas of the boat and wheelchair tie downs are strategically placed to secure those that require it should the sailing get rough.

With provision made for blind, deaf and physically challenged crewmembers, it’s clear that being disabled on the Lord Nelson should not be a disadvantage.

But back to my day of labour.

Pairing up with Jeremy – we were put to work checking the life jackets and immersion suits on the port and starboard aft stations. With all lights and gear checked and accounted for, we were being ushered on to our next tasks by first mate, John West.

Down below I found Jonathan towing a vacuum cleaner and finishing off the main staircase with a dustpan and brush. I also encountered the doc, Steve Ogden, who was preparing the bunks to welcome new arrivals for the next sailing leg later that day so I stepped in to help him.

Somehow, however, I found myself sometime later in latex gloves, toilet brush in hand, cleaning the small bathrooms on the starboard side. These too have been modified to accommodate disabled crewmembers.

After a break for lunch enjoyed on the deck in the sun, I teamed up with Tina (who had been hard at work polishing the brass with Jeremy and Gavin) and Jonathan to scrub the decks. Armed with hoses, hard brooms, buckets and some soap powder – the hours soon clocked up as curious passersby stopped on the quayside to watch our progress.

Wet and tired, we proudly surveyed our handiwork before catching up with Gavin and Jeremy. Despite the sheer volume of deck that we had scrubbed and the time it had taken – it seems we somehow got off lightly as the other two had spent the afternoon cleaning fans and other equipment below deck!

It was a group effort and the Lord Nelson was ready to receive her guests for a scheduled cocktail party that night. But it took a diverse group of volunteers willing to flex their muscles, get dirty, surrender their time and put a common goal ahead of their own for a day.

We need to find more time for days like this and we need to make the effort to ensure that our industry provides access to all.

Take a look at our Facebook All Hands on Deck gallery for photos from the day! <click here>

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.

Come out for seafarers!

This time last year we partnered with members of the maritime industry locally and attempted to bring attention to the vital work undertaken by the men and women who go to sea each day. We organised Flash Mobs in Durban, Cape Town, Pretoria and Mossel Bay to publicly acknowledge the role of seafarers.

I’ll be honest and say that getting some of the industry to buy into the concept of a Flash Mob was hard and the traditionally conservative industry tended to shy away from the idea of standing up in a public place and thanking seafarers. Yet there were those who stood up and came out.

Coming out in support of seafarers like that seemed totally alien to the industry – an industry totally reliant on their seagoing crew and I wondered: if the actual maritime industry was reluctant to stand up and thank seafarers; how on earth was the man in the street going to be able to conceptualise the need to thank them?

At the time we had grandiose ideas of what we would be doing this year to mark this day. From street parades to organising a harbour run; we were keen to expose landlubbers to the risks, challenges, duties and responsibilities of the seafarers!

But we decided to get in line with the rest of the world and embrace the social media campaign that marked last year and that again marks this year’s dedication to and celebration of seafarers.

And so this morning I got to work ready to start tweeting and blogging about the things in my life that I cannot do without that happened to be here after a journey by sea. And so as I sit at my desk and consider the contents of my office, my house and indeed my life I can’t help think that I have let down those seafarers that I was prepared to come out for last year.

I regret not organising that street parade. I regret not setting up the harbour run. And I believe we should be doing more than tweeting and blogging our thanks.

Next year – let’s take it to the streets and drive the message to the very doors of the consumers who simply cannot live without seafarers!

Recognising a different type of Maritime Master

In what can only be described as “long overdue” one of our own maritime champions was recognised for his contribution to maritime education at the Seatrade Awards dinner in London last night. While technically it was the Lawhill Maritime Centre that received the Investment in People award – Brian Ingpen is synonymous with the success of the centre and has instilled a passion for the maritime industry, respect, discipline and a set of uncompromising values in South African youth over the many years that Simons Town High School has offered Maritime Studies as a Matric subject.

My involvement with the industry goes back almost two decades and in that time Brian Ingpen has always been a prominent supporter of all maritime matters. His quiet, dignified persona is as much a part of our maritime legacy as the many legends that helped shape the South African maritime landscape. His uncompromising ability to see to the reality of all things maritime makes him an ideal commentator, educator and friend of the industry.

But it is the work that he does in Simonstown at the High School and within the Lawhill Maritime Centre that is truly remarkable. His learners (past and present) are noticeable and notable in the industry; and every year when I leave his annual Awards evening I am moved by the respect they have for him as well as the industry that they are hoping to enter.

Honestly there are few in the maritime as well as the education sector that can say they are leading our youth and championing our future maritime leaders to the same degree as Mr Brian Ingpen.

Congratulations Brian; it is an honour to have you on our editorial team and to witness what you are doing at the Lawhill Maritime Centre.