New off-shore bunkering services in SA break the wave for new novice black entrepreneurs

Port Eizabeth: 26 June 2020

The fledgling offshore ships bunkering services established four years ago in Algoa Bay may be beginning to live up to its economic promise, as business opportunities expand to new business entrants, some hitherto with little if any experience in shipping or any related maritime business sector services.

Lacking most in such area of business operations are largely black South Africans whose exposure to, and participation in maritime sector businesses is decidedly limited.

This is so even as South Africa is essentially a maritime country with direct access to three oceans stretching over a 3,200 kilometres coastline bordering a 1.5-million km2 of an ocean water space designated as its Exclusive Economic Zone: – from the Atlantic Ocean in the west, through the Southern Ocean, and to the Indian Ocean in the east.

As such, when black folk make a decisive break into the sector, as has recently a young black budding business entrepreneur from Port Elizabeth, the promise of the country’s maritime economic sector redevelopment and expansion positively contributing to South Africa’s broad economic development through inclusion and wealth redistribution to all, finds realisation.

South Africa’s offshore bunkering services on the Indian Ocean near the city of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape province was officially sanctioned and set up in 2016, launched successively with two highly experienced major oil ship transfer services suppliers; first the Greece based operator, Minerva Bunkering (formerly Aegean Marine Petroleum, and thereafter, SA Marine Fuels – the latter an all local black women founded company, now part owned by Hong Kong based global oil products group, Orxy Energies.

By end 2019, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), no less than 100 ships on average per month annually had docked near the ocean city since, for bunkering and related services and in the process, fuelling the injection of hundreds of millions of rands into the local economy.

For a while however, associated shipping business services in the new offshore bunkering services subsector remained confined to a few chandlers’ hands – two, according to SAMSA – all of which were long serving and highly experienced maritime sector white owned and managed businesses.

Five years on in early 2020, a local young black man from a Port Elizabeth township, New Brighton, Mr Hintsa, Carlos Mpe broke ground by becoming the first black Small, Micro and Medium Enterprise (SMME) category business owner to gain entry in the provision of maritime sector business services to visiting ships in Algoa Bay.

Mr Mpe who, by his own admission, until very recently, had never before been on a boat at sea in his young life this despite having been born and grew up in a Port Elizabeth township only less than three kilometers from the Indian Ocean, made the breakthough by establishing a small services firm, called Mthi Wembotyi Projects in 2017, and acquiring a year later, a 16-meters long steel boat to render off-port-limits (OPL) ship services to vessels visiting the area.

According to Mr Mpe during an interview, his interest in the maritime sector business services was sparked by the gradual sprawl of big ships of all shapes now regularly putting anchor in the ocean off the coast of Port Elizabeth, mostly for crew changes and bunkering services.

” I was actually jogging down the Brighton Beach one day and saw all these ships that were floating lazily on the ocean and began to wonder what it was they doing there.

“From then on I began researching and soon found out that they are here for bunkering and related services, and I became interested in getting involved,” said Mr Mpe during an interview in Port Elizabeth.

Mr Hntsa Carlos Mpe

Having put his few ducks in a row, including acquiring the OPL boat from a local boat builder, his first real break into actually delivering services came early in 2020 after a local chandler, Vrontado Marine Services, headed by operations manager, James Bilsbury acquired his services.

Mr Mpe had come knocking at his services company’s front door, brokering business and according to Mr Bilsbury, on assessment during a meeting, they were satisfied with his offering.

“We are a ship chandling company which means we supply foreign vessels with provisions, technical, and other stores they might require. These stores sometimes need to be delivered to vessels at anchorage in our bay.

“Carlos called us one day and made an appointment to come and see us about doing some launches together (to deliver our stores at anchorage). He came to the meeting and introduced himself and his company to us.

“We explained in the meeting what we required of him before we can do business together. He met our demands and we have since done two deliveries to vessels at anchorage area using the launch boat called Crest.

“We have done the vessel MAASGRACHT on 28 May, carrying 2.6 tons in seven (7) bulk bags. Then we have done the MANDARIN vessel on the 31 May carrying four (4) tons in 10 bulk bags,” confirmed Mr Bilsbury.

Next for Mr Mpe was a deal with Heron Marine, a bunkering services company contracted to fuel four huge cruise vessels owned by Carnival which were passing the city on their way around the world to disembark thousands of seafarers caught up in the impacts of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the four Carnival cruise ships, the Carnival Dream, required to take bunkers offshore while seat anchorage and this required more services than would ordinarily be the case with onshore refuelling at a port.

Mr Mpe’s role was to help shift to place, in between the cruise ship and the refuelling tanker, a massive barge with fenders, as well as lineup other protection equipment necessary for a safe transfer of oil from one vessel to the other.

“It was quite an exciting thing to do, getting that barge and all other equipment in place for the bunkering service, ” said Mr Mpe.

His engagement by Heron Marine however, was in keeping with the company’s commitment to create and provide business opportunities to emerging small businesses, but especially those from the black SMME sector, according to Heron Marine CEO, Ms Kgomotso Selokane.

“In our commitment to our license requirements, we use local suppliers as much as possible. In this operation specifically we procured the services of a drone operator to take footage of the entire operation.

“However, the pinnacle of our excitement was how we committed ourselves, as an entity, to SAMSA’s SMME Development requirement, as our mooring boat was provided by a local 100% Black Owned SMME,” she said in reference to Mr Mpe’s small firm’s engagement in the special operation.

Mr Mpe says the going has been tough but also rewarding so far, and he looks forward to making more inroads into the sector. However, this be hastened by direct investment into growing the business – something he hopes the business investment sector will be kind to.

“I want to grow this business and become a big business operator,” he said.

Meanwhile, SAMSA has applauded the development of the creation of opportunities for the entrance also of small black business operators in the country’s sole offshore bunkering services sector in the Eastern Cape.

According to SAMSA, a roleplayer and contributor to the implementation of the country’s Operation Phakisa (Oceans Economy) initiative lauched in 2014, bunkering in Algoa Bay plays a crucial role for the effective economic benefit of the local economy in Port Elizabeth (PE), Eastern Cape.  It has become an imperative for the local economy and the expansion of maritime sectors in PE.

Ms Bongiwe Stofile. SAMSA Southern Region Manager

SAMSA senior manager for the agency’s Southern Region (Mossel Bay to Port St Johns), Ms Bongiwe Stofile described it as an exciting development.

“This is a great achievement for us and the industry , as such we would like to celebrate it. It hasn’t been an easy process to instil a transformative mind-set in the industry and hence the recognition of first movers.” she said.

It is a view Ms Stofile also shared directly with the two companies that have so far contracted Mr Mpe’s small firm, Mthi Wembotyi Projects.

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Seafarers are essential workers at all times, global maritime industry advocates: DoT-SAMSA

Pretoria: 24 June 2020

The global maritime sector’s focus turn to celebrate the world’s estimated 1.6-million seafarers on Thursday, 25 June 2020 – a day declared an International Day of the Seafarer and marked annually- in acknowledgement and appreciation of the role of the labour sector for its contribution both to world trade over the oceans and associated activities at sea.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) along with its Member States, including South Africa, celebrate the day this year with a key theme message; #Seafarers Are Key Workers, conceptualised to advance a growing realisation that the world’s seafarers are essential workers.

In South Africa on Thursday, according to the Department of Transport (DoT) and the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), the country will mark the event Thursday with a virtual session involving invited guests and a panel of about 30 people, and which will be livestreamed to the public between 10am and 12 noon. (For more on this, click on the blog’s Seafarers Day dedicated page Here)

In a statement, the entities said: “The Day of the Seafarer is observed every year on the 25th of June by all IMO member states to pay tribute to millions of seafarers from across the globe, for their unique contribution to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society as a whole.

“Each year, the Day of the Seafarer adopts a campaign theme and the theme for 2020 is “Seafarers are Key Workers”. The 2020 campaign seeks to raise awareness of the work of seafarers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to thank them for their contribution. Seafarers are on the frontline of the COVID-19 response, playing an essential role in maintaining the flow of vital goods, such as food, medicines and medical supplies.

Thursday’s virtual session, involving a panel of about six (6) members and up to 30 participants from stakeholders and roleplayers in the country’s maritime economic sector, will be led by Transport Minister, Mr Fikile Mbalula.

Other participants scheduled include Master Mariner, Ms Constance Nengohvela, maritime studies educationist, Ms Theresa Williams, marine engineer Mr Khomotso Makgae, Amsol human resource executive, Mr Nceba Mfini, international Transport Workers Federation (ITF) official Mr Steve Yandell, Mr Odwa Mtati, Chief Executive Officer of the South African International Maritime Institute, Mr Sobantu Tilayi, SAMSA acting CEO and others.

South Africa Transport Minister, Mr Fikile Mbalula

In the statement ahead of the event, Mbalula said: “We acknowledge the sacrifices of the seafarers and the adverse effects of the Corona Virus on their personal and professional wellbeing. The outbreak of COVID-19 has exacerbated seafarers’ already difficult working conditions, as it has led to the restriction of port access, crew changeovers and repatriations, in an attempt to flatten the curve.  

“Many seafarers have been away from home for months and are uncertain about when they will be able to return home or go back to their international posts, due to global travel restrictions. The South African Government is mindful of this dire situation and is doing all it can to ensure that seafarers are prioritised as the economy gradually reopens”, said the Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula. 

In South Africa SAMSA, the DOT and other maritime institutions will host a virtual discussion to mark the Day of the Seafarer. The virtual discussion will be held on 25 June 2020, from 10h00 until 12h00, and attended by key stakeholders in the maritime industry. Seafarers will use the opportunity to highlight issues affecting them during the prevalence of COVID-19,” he said.

For more on the programme for Thursday’ event, Click Here

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A SLIVER OF A SILVER LINING – Covid-19 pandemic outbreak breaks new ground for SA bunkering services firm in PE

Port Elizabeth: 09 June 2020

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in China some six months ago has without doubt brought about the greatest health risk globally and, in its wake, by some accounts, the biggest economic threat and devastation in more than 100 years.

Yet as the old adage has it: ‘every dark cloud has a silver lining,’ so it turns out that the outbreak of the pandemic that’s forced many countries to close their borders, would also lead to new business opportunities for others that were not readily available before, and in the process, giving rise to creative thinking and innovation.

The Carnival Dream at anchor off the coast of Port Elizabeth receiving bunkering services during its last visit to South Africa to disembark cruise liner seafarers.

Heron Marine, a black woman owned bunkering services company based in Port Elizabeth is one such business operator to be presented with an opportunity that would call for its creativeness in delivering services to four huge international cruise vessels it has never serviced before.

According to Kgomotso Selokane, Chief Executive Officer of Heron Marine, four international cruise liners from Carnival, namely, the Carnival Dream, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Conquest and Carnival Ecstasy, came calling into the port of Ngqura in May.

The call into South African ports by these four cruise liners – among several similar – was to disembark the country’s seafarers who – along with the entire cruise line industry– have become economic victims of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.

Enroute to disembarking crew at Durban and other ports outside of South Africa the Carnival cruise ships required replenishments, among which was fuel for the journey to return home their thousands of seafarers rendered stranded due to closure of the industry worldwide.

Unlike its three sisters, the Carnival Dream – at 130,000gt and 305.47 meters long, with a guest capacity of some 3646 people as well as 1367 crew members – was to be refuelled seat anchorage. That presented some interesting challenges.

According to Ms Selokane, due to the configuration of the vessel and barge, the actual refuelling operation at anchorage required for the first time, the utilisation of a spacer barge with two Yokahama fenders on either side to serve as a bulwark between the company’s bunker barge and the cruise ship. In turn, this required not only tugs to shove and hold vessels in place, but also the utilisation of a mooring boat to layout oil booms to cover stern of the vessel.

Once arrangements had been finalised,  and with a keen eye constantly on the weather conditions as the refuelling had to be conducted in open anchorage , Heron Marine called on, among others,  Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) for assistance with tugs and consulted with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) to ensure compliance with the strictest safety standards during the bunkering operation.

The final alignment of all parties and equipment and calm weather conditions allowed for a successful refuelling of the Carnival Dream by one of Heron Marine’s bunkering barges, the Bonaire Trader.

She added: “SAMSA and TNPA’s approvals… demonstrated South Africa’s commitment to implementing the Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy’s (CMTP) in making the country an international maritime centre, but more so our contribution to the global maritime economy during these trying times.”

Part of the economic contribution involved the deliberate utilisation of all local based services suppliers for support infrastructure, she said

“In our commitment to our license requirements, we use local suppliers as much as possible. In this operation specifically we procured the services of a drone operator to take footage of the entire operation.

“However, the pinnacle of our excitement was how we committed ourselves, as an entity, to SAMSA’s SMME Development requirement, as our mooring boat was provided by a local 100% Black Owned SMME.

“We would really like to thank SAMSA and the TNPA team for allowing this operation to take place and supporting its precedence as a first of its kind offshore ALGOA BAY or maybe even South Africa. “Working together like this is a true indication of our South African Spirit – not matter what we endeavour,” said Ms Selokane.

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Rebuilding SA’s ship register remains vital to maritime sector development: SAMSA

The port of Ngqurha near Port Elizabeth is South Africa’s newest deep water port. (SAMSA File Photo.)

Pretoria: 05 June 2020

The rebuilding of a South Africa ship register and development of a greater population awareness about, and a viable channel of education and training through to meaningful engagement of people through careers remain pivotal to redevelopment and expansion of the country’s maritime sector, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

This view was among several articulated by SAMSA’s acting Chief Executive Officer, Mr Sobantu Tilayi during a live national radio interview on Tuesday this week.

Mr Sobantu Tilayi. Acting CEO. South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

According to Mr Tilayi, the rallying call for special focus on redeveloping the country’s ship register – currently with no more than half a dozen vessels under the country’s flag – was based on empirical evidence based on the massive economic contribution that shipping makes, inclusive of education and training as well as significant jobs creation.

In the 20 minutes radio interview, he briefly unpacked the country’s maritime economic sector’s Government led initiative, Operation Phakisa (Ocean Economy) launched in 2014 aimed at not only repositioning the sector into the country’s main economic development agenda, but also to facilitate redevelopment as well as expansion of the maritime sector inclusive of all the country’s people.

Offshore ships bunkering services now being offered near the port of Port Elizabeth (SAMSA File Photo)

Mr Tilayi also explained briefly the rationale behind the recent set up of a major ship bunkering service along the country’s south-eastern sea, the Indian Ocean near Port Elizabeth. He described it as exemplifying the numerous business and economic opportunities the country is able to explore for further growth.

For the full interview, click below:

“Unpacking South Africa’s ocean economy”. A PowerFM interview with South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA Acting CEO, Mr Sobantu Tilayi

The radio interview is reproduced here in full, courtersy of PowerFM.

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Covid-19 lockdown regulations eased for SA seafarers during Level 3 : SAMSA

SAMSA File Photo

Pretoria: 03 June 2020

Consistent with revised Government regulations for the national lockdown for Level 3 announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa a week ago, and effective on 01 June 2020, South African seafarers are now allowed to freely embark and disembark vessels in South Africa or abroad.

In addition, clarity has also been provided on restrictions under national lockdown under the different levels, affecting the operations of small vessels.

This is according to two Marine Notices No.30 and No.31 issued by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in Pretoria this week as promised by Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula at the weekend.

According to SAMSA in terms of Marine Notice No.30 (Crew Changes); “All South African seafarers will be permitted to embark or disembark vessels either in South Africa or Internationally. Returning seafarers will be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

“South African seafarers wishing to join a vessel, should preferably self-quarantine for 14-days prior to embarking. It is further recommended that seafarers undergo a Covid-19 test prior to joining a vessel.”

SAMSA File Photo

Giving contenxt to the periodically revised regulations SAMSA says: “Shipping is vital to the world supply chain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that all personnel involved are protected from infection, including those onboard ships and shore personnel who may need to temporarily go onboard ships or interact with seafarers.

“Many seafarers on board ships (and personnel in the offshore industry) have been on enforced extended contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions on travel making it difficult for crew to leave ships and for new crew to join ships. These extended stays on board could have significant repercussions for crew wellbeing as well as for safe ship operations.”

However, with South Africa effectively still under national lockdown due to the global war against the Covid-19 pandemic, according to SAMSA, foreign seafarers continue to be prohibited from disembarking on South African soil in terms of the newly revised regulations.

The Marine Notice reads: “No foreign Seafarers will be permitted to embark or disembark vessels in South Africa, unless prior arrangements have been agreed upon between the seafarers’ Embassy and Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), Department of Home Affairs and Department of Health.”

The notice further sets out guideliness on various other aspects relevant to the national lockdown such as medical evacuations, health declarations and international travel regulations, and about which the shipping community is urged to closely study for understanding and compliance with.

Meanwhile, Marine Notice No.31 (SAMSA’s risk-based response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Small Vessels and Essential Fishing Vessels) brings about clarity on regulations governing the activities of small vessels during the national lockdown, according to the five (5) levels.

According to SAMSA; ‘This Marine Notice covers the services that will be provided to vessels under the survey region by SAMSA. This does not preclude any operations which may be prohibited by other Government Deparments and Disaster Management Regulations (DMA).

“Owners and vessel operators are to ensure that they have a full understanding of any DMA regulations issued by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).”

In a table containing a list of 13 vessel operations related activities, the notice outlines which of these permitted under each of the national lockdown five (5) levels.

In addition, it also gives claritiy on regulations with respect to certificates of fitness, safe manning, and related matters. “SAMSA requests all stakeholders within the small boating fraternity to abide by the lockdown protocol as detailed in this Marine Notice and any regulations published in terms of the DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT, 2002. The relevant risk level will change as determined by the DMA and may be different in the various provinces depending on the spread of the virus,” states the notice.

SAMSA File Photo

In a separate development, SAMSA also confirmed in a media statement on Tuesday, the final safe docking of the crippled China flagged crude oil tanker, the VLCC Yuan Hua Hu, at the port of Durban on Tuesday morning.

The statement reads:

“The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) wishes to confirm that the VLCC “Yuan Hua Hu” has been successfully berthed alongside Durban. This morning, at 0500 a Chemist attended the vessel offshore and completed a Gas-free Test to ensure that the tanker posed no risk to the port. The Chemist cleared the vessel and the tanker was allowed to approach the pilot boarding station with both the tugs “Pacific Dolphin” and “Siyanda” in tow.

The towing tugs successfully handed the tanker over to four Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA) tugs, two TNPA Pilots, who executed the berthing of the tanker. The tanker ran into difficulties off Port St Johns  on the 27th of May 2020  and was immobilised. She was unable to use her engines while drifting towards shore off and was arrested while she was 0.4 nautical miles from the beach.

The vessel was not carrying any cargo and all  27 crew on-board the casualty vessel are reported to be safe and no injuries were reported. The vessel has been boomed off to prevent any pollution while she undergoes repairs by a team of specialists.

To ensure that due diligence is carried out, a SAMSA Port State Control Inspector will conduct an inspection on the tanker today (2 June 2020) to verify that the tanker complies with all international regulations. SAMSA would like to specifically thank the Master and Crew of the “Siyanda” and the “Pacific Dolphin” who successfully towed the vessel to Durban from Port St Johns.

SAMSA also wishes to acknowledge the exceptional teamwork displayed among the multi-disciplinary team, comprising some of South Africa’s top maritime experts, including  the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), AMSOL, Transnet National Port Authority(TNPA), Smit Marine South Africa, P&I Associates, National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) and SAMSA first responders.

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