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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