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.
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.
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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