Panama bulk carrier detained in South Africa released, with stern warning: SAMSA

Pretoria: 24 April 2020

A Panama-flagged bulk carrier, the Top Grace, that was detained in South Africa last month after it was found to have thrown overboard two stowaways off the KwaZulu-Natal coast has been released, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

The release of the vessel in Richards Bay on Thursday occurred accompanied by a stern warning to shipping vessels traversing South Africa’s oceans waters that they will be subjected to the fullest might of the law whenever found to have transgressed the country’s maritime laws.

In a statement in Pretoria on Friday, SAMSA said the release of the Top Grace on Thursday in Richards Bay was made after a thorough investigation, including a criminal prosecution of the crew, was conducted successfully by relevant South African authorities into the incident of a throw away at sea of two men by the vessels’ crew on or about 23 March 2020.

At the time according to SAMSA, it was alleged that the two stowaways had boarded the vessel “Top Grace” while it was berthed at Maydon Wharf in Durban on Monday 23th March 2020. They had climbed up the mooring ropes and hid in the bulk carrier’s chain locker.  

The two stowaways, both Tanzanians, reportedly claimed then that after being discovered hiding on the ship, after it had set sail, the vessels’ crew threw them overboard with a make-shift raft, life jackets and some bottles of water. They told authorities that they spent two days at sea before washing out at Zinkwazi beach on the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Subsequent to that incident at sea, the vessel berthed at the Richards Bay harbour and was detained.

On Friday, SAMSA said the crew had since settled the fines imposed on it by a Durban court of law after it was found guilty of a criminal offence relating to the stowaways. Following to this, SAMSA also conducted its own separate investigation into the vessel’s possible breach of Section 9 (3) of the Maritime Traffic Act.

“SAMSA detained the MV Top Grace from 17 April 2020 – 23 April 2020 in Richards Bay in order to conduct an investigation into circumstances surrounding two foreign stowaways being forced off the vessel approximately three (3) nautical miles off the coast of South Africa.

“After the successful conviction of the Master and Crew for attempted murder, who were released after payment of a fine, SAMSA was then able to proceed with its own investigation without compromising the SAPS criminal investigation.

“The vessel was detained by SAMSA in terms of section 9(3) of the Marine Traffic Act for breaking innocent passage and causing prejudice to the peace, good order and / or security of the Republic. (Innocent passage is a concept in the law of the sea that allows for a vessel to pass through the territorial waters of another state, subject to certain conditions.)

“SAMSA appointed shipping lawyers from Bowmans to assist SAMSA’s surveyors with the investigation and to ensure a speedy conclusion. Under the Marine Traffic Act, SAMSA had seven (7) days following the detention within which to complete the investigation. A high tech investigation was conducted using sophisticated methods of data retrieval and analysis (including retrieval of deleted items) and a team of five (5) interpreters was employed to work around the clock to interpret Mandarin texts into English.

“Following a thorough assessment of the findings of the investigation SAMSA concluded that any further action against the vessel would not be warranted, save for the payment of a detention fine. The fine was paid on 23rd April and the detention of the vessel immediately lifted,” said SAMSA in a statement.

SAMSA further stated: “The investigation demonstrates that SAMSA will spare no resource in proper enforcement of its coastal state obligations and in the pursuit of its mandate of safety of life at sea, protection of the marine environment and promoting the Republic’s maritime interests. It is noted that in appropriate circumstances, vessels that commit crimes may be forfeited to the state in terms of certain legislation enforced by SAMSA.

“SAMSA would like to once again warn vessels sailing through South Africa’s territorial waters that any vessels found to have transgressed the national laws will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. SAMSA implores all vessels and ship operators to act responsibly during this period of uncertainty. Improper treatment of stowaways will not be tolerated in any circumstances.

Meanwhile, SAMSA further called on ships at the country oceans waters to not hesitate to call for assistance during this period of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“Should any vessel in South African waters experience difficulties of a humanitarian nature occasioned by Covid-19, this should be immediately reported to SAMSA, and SAMSA will endeavour to assist. The Covid-19 crisis is not an excuse to break the law. SAMSA will continue to assist and provide guidance to any vessel transiting South Africa’s territorial waters.”

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Plight of stranded SA seafarers abroad receiving Government attention: SAMSA

Pretoria: 20 April 2020

With an increasing number of South Africans reportedly stranded at airports across the world, among these, South African seafarers mainly on board cruise liners, efforts are being made across various Government departments in the country to bring about effective action to their aid.

This is according to the Department of Transport (DoT) in a statement in Pretoria on Monday, expressing the department’s appreciation of the crucial role its agency, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is playing in the effort.

South Africa Transport Minister, Mr Fikile Mbalula

Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula on Monday said hundreds of South African seafarers caught up in the massive storm of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pademic while in service on cruiseliners across world, had been successfully assisted to return.

However, there were still as many as 130 others still abroad in countries such Brazil, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Ghana.

According to Mr Mbalula, various Government departments; notably DoT, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), Deparment of Health and SAMSA were closely working together to arrange the safe transfer of the seafarers back to the country.

This was in addition to SAMSA’s work, alongside Transnet’s National Ports Authority (TNPA),  in the effective and efficient management of ship traffic along the country’s oceans, some of which sought urgent assistance at the country’s commercial ports for fuel and other supplies replenishments.

The DoT reported no less than 10 such cruiseliners, research vessels and related that had sought assistance at the country’s ports for replenishments since the closure of the country’s borders after the Government’s declaration of a State of National Disaster and introduction of a 35 day national lockdown in last month.

IMG_5534The stringent travel restriction measures imposed in South Africa and elsewhere led to a complete closure of all airports and the consequent grounding of passenger aircrafts globally in the wake of the outbreak and rampant spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic that had infected hundreds of thousands and killed tens of thousands in many countries .

One major cruise liners operator with a significant intake of South African seafarers, MSC Cruises announced shortly thereafter it had halted cruises globally for up to end of May 2020. A statement on its website read: “We at MSC Cruises have decided to further extend the halting of all our new cruise departures fleet-wide through to 29 May, in light of the continued extraordinary circumstances the world is facing in connection with the Covid-19 virus global health emergency.

“We have previously announced the temporary halting of all its ships globally through to 30 April. As governments across the globe have since further strengthened ashore public health and safety measures to protect local populations and contain the further spread of the virus, today’s decision by MSC Cruises to further extend this extraordinary measure aims to mirror and further support the effectiveness of such efforts.”

MSC Cruises further announced compensation packages for its South African seafares – “A voucher for the value of their current 2019/2020 cruise package, which they can redeem in the upcoming local cruise season in 2020/2021 Plus an on-board credit of $50 per cabin to be used on a cruise in the next local South African season 2020/2021″ 

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On Monday, Minister Mbalula said he: “…wishes to commend the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) for its continued work with Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and the Department of Health in implementing the lockdown regulations, as they pertain to the maritime sector.

“The regulations prohibit cruise liners from docking at any South African Port, changing crew or disembarking foreign nationals. The vessels are only permitted to replenish fuel, stores and provisions and disembark South African crew, returning South African citizens and permanent residents

“SAMSA, an entity of the Department of Transport,  is also monitoring the repatriation of seafarers who are currently overseas and waiting for arrangements for their travel home to be finalised.

“To date there are currently about 130 crew members in Sao Paolo, London, Frankfurt, Italy and Ghana. The Seafarers are receiving assistance from their respective employers and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

For its part, from as early as the second week of March, SAMSA, the country’s Registrar of Seafarers, announced special measures it would implement to facilitate for fast-tracking the speedy assistance of South African seafarers reportedly stranded abroad in a public notice placed also on its website.

Meanwhile, in addition to the half a dozen or so cruise liners and other vessels the country has had to handle during the national lockdown, DoT revealed also a list of those that were managed for Covid-19 infection.

The DoT listed these as including:

AIDAmira – docked in Cape Town on 16 March following a COVID-19 scare involving six AIDAmira passengers and two MV Corona bulk carrier crew, all of whom tested negative for the Corona Virus.

Arcadia – docked in Durban on 26 March. After COVID-19 test results came out negative for 13 asymptomatic individuals on board, the vessel docked to refuel and restock provisions, as well as allow six South African crew members to disembark and return home.

The Queen Mary 2 – docked in Durban on 31 March and disembarked six South African crew members, all of whom tested negative from COVID-19.

MSC Orchestra – currently working with the Department of Health to trace passengers following confirmation of positive test results for two individuals who cruised on 28 February and 16 March.

DoT said one vessel, a South African fishing vessel had its crew also quarantined in Cape Town as per regulations.

“The fishing vessel the CODESA 1 berthed in the Port of Cape Town on 11 April 2020. The Master and crew are all South African. The vessel has been out at sea, did not visit any other country nor port, and provides an essential service, but has been subjected to the 14-days quarantine period on-board upon return as per current regulations,” it said.

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SAMSA vows tough action against human abuse on board ships in SA waters

DSC_8531Pretoria: 13 April 2020

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has vowed to take all possible steps necessary to prevent people abuse on board ships sailing on South Africa’s oceans, inclusive of taking such harsh punitive measures as necessary, as provided for in law, against established violations.

The warning comes in the wake of an ongoing investigation being conducted jointly with other authorities, including the South African Police Services (SAPS), into an alleged throwing overboard of two people by the crew of a foreign cargo vessel visiting South Africa recently, after they were reportedly found on board without permission.

In a statement in Pretoria on Monday, SAMSA said the two men, both of Tanzania origin – described as stowaways – were reportedly forcibly removed and thrown overboard  from a Panama flagged bulk carrier named MV Top Grace. The incident reportedly occured after the MV Top Grace had sailed off the port of Durban on 28 March 2020.

Once authorities got wind of the incident, the vessel was detained in Richards Bay and charges laid against the ship’s captain and six of its crew members. They have since appeared in court while official investigations are continuing, said SAMSA

In the statement SAMSA says: “The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is working with the South African Police Services (SAPS) in the investigation of an incident on the 28th of March off the KZN Coast involving the MV Top Grace. The MV Top Grace is Panamanian flagged bulk carrier.

“The investigation follows allegations by two Tanzanian nationals that they were thrown overboard after illegally boarding the vessel while it was berthed at Durban harbour.

“It is alleged that the two stowaways had boarded the vessel “Top Grace” which was berthed at Maydon Wharf in Durban on Monday 23th March 2020 by climbing up the mooring ropes and hid in the chain locker.

“When they were discovered hiding on the ship, after it had set sail, they alleged that they were thrown overboard with a make-shift raft, life jackets and some bottles of water. The Tanzanians claimed they spent two days at sea before washing out at Zinkwazi beach on the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

“The vessel is currently berthed at the Richards Bay harbour and is detained. Seven crew including the Ships Master, Chief Officer, Third Officer, Chief Engineer, First Engineer, Second Engineer and Bosun (senior crewman of the deck) were taken into Police Custody and charged with attempted murder before being released on bail. The crew were allowed to return to the vessel until their next court appearance.

“SAMSA has also conducted its own investigation and has shared such with the SAPS to assist with their ongoing investigation. SAMSA would like to warn vessels sailing through its territorial waters that any vessels found to have transgressed South Africa’s national laws, will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

“The South African Maritime Safety Authority will continue to monitor all vessels calling at South African Ports or sailing through its territorial waters to ensure that its mandate of protecting the marine environment from pollution and saving lives and property at sea. SAMSA implores all vessels and ship managers to act responsibly during this period of uncertainty.

“SAMSA would like to thank the South African Police Services, National Prosecuting Authority and all other parties involved, whose selfless action and dedication to protect South Africa’s coastline during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown period has shown the true spirit of Ubuntu.”

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Transport Minister announces reviewal of restrictions at SA ports

Pretoria: 31 March 2020

Following to concerns and consultations between Government, industry and affected parties, the Department of Transport has announced relaxation of some of the strict restrictions on maritime sector activities, particularly around the country’s ports.

The revised measures aimed at alleviating pressure on particularly trade goods movement and handling as well as personnel such as ships crews were announced by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in a new Marine Notice 21 issued in Ptetoria on Tuesday, as approved by the Department of Transport recently.

DOTIn particular, the Marine Notice addresses such issues as crew changes at the country’s commercial ports, revised regulations on the management of cargo vessels as well as the loading and off loading of cargo, all of which faced tough measures before, some of which included an outright ban.

According to SAMSA in the notice, these tough measures had come about as a result of the spread of the corona virus (Covid-19) pandemic globally following its outbreak in China in December 2019.

SAMSA states: “On 23 March 2020, the President of the Republic (of South Africa) declared a lockdown, effective from 23:59 on Thursday, 26 March 2020, for a period of 21 days, to stop the spread of the COVID-19 corona virus until 23:59 on Thursday, 16 April 2020. 

SAMSA Master Logo“In compliance with the lockdown, the Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA) has sent out numerous communications on how the ports will be operating during this period.”

Following the revision of the tough restrictions since put in place at the outset of the national lockdown, SAMSA confirmed the following were now effective:

  • All South African ports remain open for port operations
  • Cargo operations will continue in all ports
  • Stevedore operations will continue in all ports and
  • All types of cargo will be allowed to be loaded and off loaded (and not just essential cargo).

According to SAMSA: “The Department of Transport recognises that there have been numerous instructions distributed by various entities, causing confusion amongst various entities, service providers and shipping companies. The Department of Transport would therefore like to clarify all requirements during the lockdown period as follows.

SOUTH AFRICAN PORTS

DSC_8149All South African Commercial Ports will remain operational for Cargo Work. These are Cape Town, Saldanha, Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth, Port of Ngqura, East London, Durban,  and Richards Bay.

CARGO OPERATIONS

DSC_0872Following on the initial announcement by the President, there have been changes such as the enablement of the mining companies to approach their regulator Ministry on an individual basis and seek authorisation to continue operations, albeit on a limited basis.

Government has now decided that in the interest of ensuring a functional supply chain across all ports, that all cargoes will be accepted for loading and off-loading. Where possible, essential goods should receive preferential treatment over non-essential goods.

Transnet will be in a position to communicate which of its operations will be reactivated with the relevant customers and logistics partners.

Transnet will reactivate certain of its operations, these would be at a reduced level and not full capacity. The reactivated operations will be dictated to by the applicable regulatory framework, national priorities and contribution to the health of the economy and Transnet’s ability to deploy its resources, having regard to people safety, which is of paramount importance.

Transnet’s current priorities, in addition to all the essential services previously communicated, are: .

  • The integrated container logistics system mainly around the Port of Durban and the link to the economic hub in Gauteng – ensuring that the complex system remains efficient to enable the movement of priority and essential containerized goods; this includes the movement of non-essential cargo to City Deep, only for purposes of decongesting the Port of Durban, .
  • The heavy haul rail and ports export system from the Northern Cape to the Port of Saldanha; and .
  • The domestic and export Coal and other GFB cargo through the Port of Richards Bay.

All other specific approvals granted by Government, which are dependent on the rest of the South African rail and ports system will be considered on a case by case basis, and our ability to respond responsibly will be communicated directly to customers making applications based on Government approvals granted.

Customers are to ensure thatall applications and evidence of approvals are submitted to the Transnet Customer Nerve Center via email at transnet.cnc@transnet.net

Commodity managers and key account executives normally dealing with each customer remains the primary point of contact and channel of communication with all our customers.

STEVEDORING OPERATIONS

DSC_8531The provision of Transnet’s service is subject to customers and their cargo handlers/siding operators taking necessary measures to protect Transnet staff who interface with their operations.

All port personnel (both Transnet, private stevedoring and any other category of employees) must have access to hygiene services, e.g. sanitation, soap and water which each employer shall cause to be provided together with standard operating procedures to ensure the highest hygiene practices.

This therefore means strict adherence to health and safety protocols will not be compromised. Customers must provide Transnet with the Business Continuity Plans (BCP) and update Transnet daily on the status of their employees.

VESSEL OPERATIONS

DSC_5977Masters are to ensure that where possible the following standards are adhered to by the ship’s officers and ratings:

  1. Social Distancing maintained (between 1-2 meters between persons) .
  2. Crew to follow hand hygiene protocols i.e. regular washing of hands (20 seconds or more) .
  3. Personal Protective Equipment to be utilised i.e. Face Masks, Gloves, Boiler Suites, Disposable Boiler Suits (where possible), Safety Boots, Hard Hats, Safety Glasses .
  4. Any medical condition that develops during the ports stay are to be reported to Port Health immediately, focusing specifically on the following symptoms:
  • Dry Cough
  • Consistent Fever (>38.5°C)
  • Difficulty in Breathing (severe cases)
  • Tiredness

If any crew member displays these symptoms, they are to be immediately isolated until advised otherwise by Port Health. Failure to comply may result in unduly delays to vessels in port or prevent cargo operations from continuing.

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MARITIME NATIONAL JOINT OPERATIONS COMMITTEE (MNJOC) FOR THE COORDINATION OF THE MARITIME SECTOR DURING THE COVID 19 DISASTER MANAGEMENT

The Department of Transport has established a Maritime National Joint Operations Committee in order to coordinate the maritime sector for the period of the COVID 19 Disaster Management.

The MNJOC is linked to the National Command Council and comprises the following entities; Department of Transport, Transnet National Ports Authority, SAMSA and Ports Regulator

All queries related to the maritime sector during this period can be addressed to: mnjoc@samsa.org.za

(For the full and complete Marine Notice 21: 2020 please click the following link: http://www.samsa.org.za/Pages/Marine-Notices.aspx?RootFolder=%2FMarine%20Notices%2F2020&FolderCTID=0x0120003FE4AD37303F0248BE054A403FCF70C5&View=%7BF8CE201C%2DE919%2D4C08%2DB8DC%2DD9DD160A2FA2%7D)

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