Have you read the Minister’s speech?

Have you read the Minister’s speech? That’s the question being most asked this month at maritime functions and it refers to Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters’ discourse at the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s (SAMSA) AGM at the end of September where she called for “immediate action from the (SAMSA) Board in order to resolve the appalling state of affairs at SAMSA”.

What usually follows the opening question in these chats amongst maritime colleagues are the knowing nods and ensuing discussion on the schism that we all believe to exist between the Department of Transport and its subsidiary body – as if this could be the explanation as to why the minister was so severe in her deliberations.

This leads into a conversation on the three pillars of SAMSA’s mandate and how many seem to believe that it is clear that the Authority has taken to heart the third point: to promote South Africa’s maritime interests as its over-arching purpose – perhaps to the detriment of the first two tenets of its existence which relate to the preservation of life, environment and property at sea.

It is an interesting dilemma for the industry. We’ve lauded the Authority, and particularly its CEO Commander Tsietsi Mokhele, for his foresight and passion to champion the maritime cause. We’ve watched him weave the maritime thread into the government conversation. And, as we begin to see a level of recognition across a number of government departments, we are told take stock of an entity that requires some oversight.

One cannot fain surprise that expenditure on conferences and advertisements ballooned from R12m in 2012 to R54 million in 2013. Most conference organisers and many publications have viewed the Authority as an unofficial Lotto pay-out as they cashed in their rate cards and sponsorship tiers. SAMSA has been visual at most events on the calendar including one hosted by us – the Maritime Industry Awards.

Was this a waste of resources? I dare to say that a little discernment could have been applied, but that some of the television slots highlighting the cadets on the SA Agulhas were well timed and could have contributed to a broader maritime awareness amongst our youth. So too do career and job summits, but a rubber stamp of approval associated with the sponsorship and exhibition stands of just about every maritime exhibition and conference could have been undertaken with some introspection.

What the industry has been waiting for is a follow-up to the successful and refreshingly different South African Maritime Industry Conference (SAMIC). Organised by the Authority, the conference has the ability to knock many conferences off the calendar by providing one unified thought tank for the industry.

Envisioned to fill a gap left by the demise of the National Maritime Conference of the 1990’s organised by industry for industry – SAMIC was well positioned to meet the needs of an industry ready and willing to move forward. It seems a pity, however, that this conference, anticipated to take place before the end of 2014, may now never take its rightful place on the calendar.

But this is not the only reason the minister pegs the Authority to be “in serious trouble”. Citing plummeting cash flows (a 350 percent decline), irregular expenditure (R28.8 million), fruitless and wasteful expenditure (R1.1 million), a total asset decline of 96 percent and the cost escalation associated to the SA Agulhas of 31 percent – Peters did not mince her words when she asked that “immediate actions be taken” to make the entity viable and able to deliver on its legislative mandate.

The SA Agulhas may lie at the heart of many of SAMSA’s reported woes, but most in the industry will agree that the Authority’s sheer determination to create a dedicated training vessel for their cadetship programme should not go unapplauded. It was never going to be an easy or cheap endeavour – something that is clearly realised by the Authority. Their Annual Report highlights the need for projects such as the cadetship programme and the SA Agulhas to be funded externally.

“Projects will therefore be funded only to the extent to which project funding is available and the organisation’s core revenue will not be used. The SA Agulhas and the cadetship projects, which contributed significantly to the deficits will soon no longer be funded by SAMSA,” it states in the report.

But perhaps what is most alarming and does not come across clearly in the visually alluring Annual Report is the “lack of reliability of reported information”. The Annual Report provides performance targets that are generally reported as being met or at least mostly met, but the Auditor General raises concerns that these targets are “not specific, measurable or time bound”.

In addition, what is not evident in the Annual Report, but is highlighted in the Minister’s speech is anomalies of data – or data spike for the fourth quarter of the reported year. For instance the tally of inspections of both local and foreign going vessels catapults rather unrealistically in the fourth quarter – calling into question the validity of what is presented.

Similarly, although a 100 percent target of audited training institutions is reported at year-end, according to the speech, data allegedly reveals that no audits were carried out within the first three quarters of the year.

“The fact that the auditors could not validate the performance results and that the third quarter results of some KPI’s seem to be far apart from the fourth quarter results, call for an objective independent performance audit of the 2013/2014 performance information,” she says.

With much more fodder to chew on in both the Annual Report as well as Minister Peters’ speech, it would be unfair to try and unpack the issues here. And as transport month draws to a close and we mull the pronouncements of Operation Phakisa, perhaps our closing issue of Maritime Review Africa for the year will delve a little deeper into the state of South Africa as a maritime nation on the continent.

If you have anything to say on this topic, we welcome your input both on and off the record.

THE ABOVE ARTICLE APPEARS AS THE EDITOR’S COLUMN IN THE SEPT/OCTOBER ISSUE OF MARITIME REVIEW
You can read the full magazine HERE

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 – 31 January 2014

Hout Bay harbour was in the headlines this week as angry fishermen blockaded the harbour on Wednesday and Thursday in protest as two local fishermen were feared drowned.

Locals said that informal fishermen were forced to fish at night, which is far more dangerous, as they had no fishing rights.

Anthony Theunissen, a local fisherman, said that people in his community had been fishing for generations and knew no other way of life.  He added that the protest was aimed at closing the harbour’s economic activity.

The fishermen want not only fishing rights, but are calling for transformation within the fishing industry.

Fisheries branch spokesperson, Carol Moses expressed the department’s regret at the loss of life.

Amendments to the Marine Living Resources Act are currently before government.

Surely, there is some positive way forward for these local fishermen who are asking nothing more than the chance to feed their families and make a living?

The SA Agulhas featured briefly in the news as the vessel made a stop alongside the ice of Bouvet Island in the South Atlantic Ocean to deliver equipment required for the island’s new communications station.

Another impressive vessel in the news this week is the Queen Mary 2.  Fans of the world’s largest ocean liner, will have been delighted as the vessel sailed into Table Bay Harbour for a two day visit.

Alan Winde, Western Cape MEC for Tourism, welcomed the vessel saying that cruise ships brought more than 10, 000 visitors to the Western Cape annually generating more than R200 million for the economy.   He also stated that he was looking forward to the development of a dedicated cruise liner terminal.

We shall wait and see.

The controversial Australian shark culling policy has made headlines again this week with the killing of the first shark caught in the bait lines off the Australian coast.  The shark, a 3m female tiger shark was caught in the lines and shot by a contracted fisherman.

Needless to say, and quite rightly so, local environmental activists are outraged by the killing and a large public backlash is expected.  Western Australian State Premier, Colin Barnett, is standing by the decision, saying that the safety of beach goers is the ultimate aim.

The programme is only on trial for a two month period.  Let us hope that someone in charge comes to their senses and looks at a more environmentally friendly option – perhaps something similar to the exclusion nets in use in False Bay??

Weekly Press Review – 11 October 2013

The big news in the press this week is the return of the SA Agulhas II from its research mission to Gough Island.

The vessel returned to Cape Town with its team of 13 on board who had spent  13 months on the island.

After the vessels return and addressing the research team, Dr Monde Mayekiso, Deputy Director General: Oceans & Coasts Department of Environmental Affairs, said: “To the scientific community at large, your contribution to this meaningful cause in research arena has not gone unnoticed.”

It is a proud moment for the South African maritime industry to see the success of this wonderful vessel. May it be the first of many successful missions.

The Sapina Rainbow Project which is endorsed by the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund also made the news this week with the return of Nomcebo Siyaya from her 5,000 mile first leg of a round-the-world yacht race.

Nineteen year old Siyaya, who until recently had not even seen a boat, completed her leg of the race and is extremely proud to have gained her sea legs. She is one of eight South Africans chosen to take part in the project.

Siyaya’s leg took more than three weeks to complete. She says: “I learnt a lot from my journey, although it wasn’t easy. I have found the trip challenging, particularly the weather.”

It is exciting to see the youth of our country embracing opportunities which allow them access to some kind of maritime experience. This can only promote the industry and generate an interest in its future members – and it is widely acknowledged that sailing provides one of the best bases for competent seafarers.

Weekly Press Review – 2 August 2013

Last week Brian Ingpen and nine students from Lawhill Maritime Centre boarded the SA Agulhas in Simon’s Town for a navigation training voyage from Simon’s Town to Cape Town. He shared this experience in his column in the Cape Times this week.

Lawhill students do many navigation exercises, but this outing on the SA Agulhas allowed them to see the markers that they have come to recognise in theory with their own eyes. One of the tasks that they were required to perform whilst on the vessel was an accurate bearing on Slanghoek Lighthouse from the bridgewing. Completing the task on a moving ship proved a little more difficult than expected, but the students completed the task and at the same time got a chance to take in the beautiful scenery along the False Bay coastline.

It is wonderful to reading a story of an old ship making an impact on the lives of a young students and giving them the chance to experience life at sea – even if it is only for a few hours. Perhaps some of these students will go on to create more positive news headlines for the industry in their future.

Weekly Press Review – 1 March 2013

‘The world’s greatest living explorer’, 68 year-old Sir Ranulph Fiennes has arrived safely back in Cape Town after a lengthy evacuation process from Antarctica. Fiennes, who is suffering from severe frostbite after attempting to adjust a ski binding without gloves on, is said to be ‘extremely disappointed’ at having to give up his quest to be the first to cross the world’s coldest continent in winter.

The Coldest Journey is, however, not over. The five remaining team members will continue with the expedition and hope to begin the crossing on March 21, led by Brian Newham.

One cannot help but think that perhaps the ‘world’s greatest living explorer’ should have known better that to remove his gloves while in the field.

Greta Apelgren-Narkedien is back in the news this week with the announcement that the fisheries department has committed to heeding the scientific advice presented this year for the the reduction of rock lobster quotas in the next financial year. She believes that this that revised quota will give the rock lobster population time to rebuild.

This same scientific advice regarding quotas was disregarded last year.

What is the point of employing, and presumably paying, scientist for their valuable input and then simply ignoring it? Surely this situation cannot be allowed to continue..