Pretoria: 20 August 2020
The South African government confirmed on Thursday the postponement of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) World Maritime Day Parallel Event scheduled for the country in October, due to the onset and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide since December 2019.
Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula announced in a statement: “The Department of Transport hereby wishes to inform the maritime industry and its stakeholders of the postponement of this year’s IMO World Maritime Day Parallel Event (WMDPE), which was scheduled to take place during the month October 2020.
“Due to travel restrictions as well as other health and safety regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa will not be able to host the WMDPE in 2020 but will instead defer its hosting of the prestigeous event to the year 2021,” said Mr Mbalula.
The postponement endorsed by Member States of the International IMO in June affects not only this year’s scheduled hosts; South Africa, but also two other countries, Iran and Russia, who were to host the event after South Africa in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Both Iran and Russia had backed South Africa’s request for the postponement, thereby ratifying their hosting schedule movement to 2022 and 2023 respectively.
The IMO WMD Parallel event, the world’s biggest gathering of the world maritime sector body Member States annually, involving possibly as many as 230 countries, was to be held in Durban, South Africa in October 2020 for the first time.
The baton for the inaugural staging of the event by South Africa in October 2020 was handed to Mr Mbalula by the IMO in Cartagena, Colombia in September last year, following to the formal granting of the honour by an IMO Council to South Africa to stage the event in 2015.
In its request for postponement of the event to the IMO Council, South Africa said since the outbreak of the Covid-19, countries around the world, guided by the World Health Organisation (WHO, had to take “precautionary health and safety measures in trying to curb the spread of COVID-19.’
“South Africa has adopted best practices based on guidance issued by WHO, leading to the promulgation of risk-based national policies and regulations by introducing, inter alia, travel restrictions, social distancing, working from home for non-essential workers, banning of physical meetings and events, etc.
“Those measures (social distancing, banning of physical events, and travel restrictions) were also adopted by many Member States, and are likely to remain in place for some time or until the vaccine to treat COVID-19 is found.
“The current restrictions and uncertainties caused by the pandemic will make it difficult or impossible for Member States to attend any physical event or conference, including WMDPE. Thus, South Africa takes a considered view that the 2020 WMDPE be postponed to 2021 and that the subsequent events be shifted by 1 year. This view is taken with a hope that the global situation on COVID-19 would have changed by 2021 onwards.
“South Africa will closely monitor local, regional and global measures, and developments and guidance from various institutions, including WHO and IMO. “
South Africa’s request had the full backing of both Iran and Russia who were and remain due to host the event successively thereafter.
The two countries wrote: “Noting the Council’s acceptance of the offers made by the Governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran (114th session), the Russian Federation (120th session) and the United Arab Emirates (122nd session) to host the Parallel Event in 2021, 2022 and 2023, respectively, the sponsors of this document agree with the proposal made by South Africa to postpone the Parallel Event by 1 year. Consequently, all future events would also be postponed by 1 year.”
In a statement shortly thereafter, the IMO confirmed: “The Council accepts the proposal made by South Africa, supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation, that the 2020 World Maritime Day Parallel Event be postponed to 2021 due to the current restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the subsequent events (i.e. the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2021, the Russian Federation in 2022 and the United Arab Emirates in 2023) be shifted by one year.
“The Council also notes that this proposal is taken with a hope that the global situation on COVID-19 would have changed by 2021.”
In Pretoria on Thursday, Mr Mbalula said much work had already been underway to prepare the country and plans were at an advanced stage to host the event in the City of Durban from 27-29 October 2020.
He said: “We acknowledge the tireless efforts of all the agencies thus far and are mindful of the general industry anticipation for the IMO World Maritime Day Parallel Event 2020.
“However, health and safety is paramount and must be prioritized above mutually beneficial engagements and bilateral discussions regardless of their urgency and importance. The South African government remains eager to welcome delegates to our shores, under much safer global conditions in 2021” Mr Mbalula.