Ships Ahoy! New forum puts wind in sails of Blue Economy

SA has a new maritime sector umbrella body

Not since Jan van Riebeek landed three ships in the Cape has there been such a hype around seafarers.

First came news of a Public Works R400-million harbour repair project. Then Operation Phakisa and all it entails. Now the Department of Transport has ushered in the South African Maritime Business Forum.

The Forum met for the first time in late October amid renewed hopes of a new dawn for the ‘Cinderella’ maritime sector, often overlooked in favour of Egoli’s fabled mine dumps. Paper promises are finally being realised as all eyes turn to a far more sustainable resource – the wet blue stuff surrounding the country on three sides.

It’s a positive momentum welcomed by Transport Department maritime Deputy Director General Dumisani Ntuli who spoke to SABBEX this month about the industry milestone. Ntuli said the new forum flows from the Cabinet-approved Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy (CMTP). “The context is that South Africa has now made a very clear determination in terms of what it wants to do with its maritime sector,” Ntuli said. “For a long time the country has been doing things but not based on some form of blueprint.”

“This absence (of a blueprint) has resulted in a lack of direction and planning,” he said. “But this (the CMTP) closes the gap that has existed.”

“A route to being an international maritime centre is that we need to formalise and organise our industry. There is no doubt that South Africa is indeed a maritime nation…but our maritime economy requires more urgent attention for the country to truly thrive and make sure that we are able to reap the benefits of these marine resources we have,” he said.

Although details of the new forum and how it will function are still unclear, Ntuli says a key objective is to enable maritime stakeholders to speak with a single voice, thereby enhancing Brand South Africa when interacting with both government and the outside world. The Forum, expected to meet monthly during the initial stages, would also help enable transformation and job-creation within the sector.

Ntuli singled out ship repair and manufacturing as two potential growth areas. He also punted South Africa as a possible future venue for maritime dispute arbitration.

The SA Maritime Business Forum would help highlight potential opportunities, Ntuli said: “It would say to government, we are now ready – open the opportunities to us”.

SABBEX executive director Vanessa Davidson, who attended the inaugural Forum meeting, said the new organisation “intends to coordinate and promote participation of businesses in realising inclusive development and growth of the sector.

“The forum covers areas such as skills, salvage, bunkering, ship repair, seafarers, freight forwarding, shipping, stevedoring, fishing and chandelling. The two sub sectors where SABBEX/BSA will add value is in marine manufacturing and yachting. SABBEX/BSA has committed support for the forum and we look forward to being active participants to grow and support businesses in the maritime industry,” Davidson said.

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