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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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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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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