Plight of stranded SA seafarers abroad receiving Government attention: SAMSA

Pretoria: 20 April 2020

With an increasing number of South Africans reportedly stranded at airports across the world, among these, South African seafarers mainly on board cruise liners, efforts are being made across various Government departments in the country to bring about effective action to their aid.

This is according to the Department of Transport (DoT) in a statement in Pretoria on Monday, expressing the department’s appreciation of the crucial role its agency, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is playing in the effort.

South Africa Transport Minister, Mr Fikile Mbalula

Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula on Monday said hundreds of South African seafarers caught up in the massive storm of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pademic while in service on cruiseliners across world, had been successfully assisted to return.

However, there were still as many as 130 others still abroad in countries such Brazil, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Ghana.

According to Mr Mbalula, various Government departments; notably DoT, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), Deparment of Health and SAMSA were closely working together to arrange the safe transfer of the seafarers back to the country.

This was in addition to SAMSA’s work, alongside Transnet’s National Ports Authority (TNPA),  in the effective and efficient management of ship traffic along the country’s oceans, some of which sought urgent assistance at the country’s commercial ports for fuel and other supplies replenishments.

The DoT reported no less than 10 such cruiseliners, research vessels and related that had sought assistance at the country’s ports for replenishments since the closure of the country’s borders after the Government’s declaration of a State of National Disaster and introduction of a 35 day national lockdown in last month.

IMG_5534The stringent travel restriction measures imposed in South Africa and elsewhere led to a complete closure of all airports and the consequent grounding of passenger aircrafts globally in the wake of the outbreak and rampant spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic that had infected hundreds of thousands and killed tens of thousands in many countries .

One major cruise liners operator with a significant intake of South African seafarers, MSC Cruises announced shortly thereafter it had halted cruises globally for up to end of May 2020. A statement on its website read: “We at MSC Cruises have decided to further extend the halting of all our new cruise departures fleet-wide through to 29 May, in light of the continued extraordinary circumstances the world is facing in connection with the Covid-19 virus global health emergency.

“We have previously announced the temporary halting of all its ships globally through to 30 April. As governments across the globe have since further strengthened ashore public health and safety measures to protect local populations and contain the further spread of the virus, today’s decision by MSC Cruises to further extend this extraordinary measure aims to mirror and further support the effectiveness of such efforts.”

MSC Cruises further announced compensation packages for its South African seafares – “A voucher for the value of their current 2019/2020 cruise package, which they can redeem in the upcoming local cruise season in 2020/2021 Plus an on-board credit of $50 per cabin to be used on a cruise in the next local South African season 2020/2021″ 

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On Monday, Minister Mbalula said he: “…wishes to commend the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) for its continued work with Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and the Department of Health in implementing the lockdown regulations, as they pertain to the maritime sector.

“The regulations prohibit cruise liners from docking at any South African Port, changing crew or disembarking foreign nationals. The vessels are only permitted to replenish fuel, stores and provisions and disembark South African crew, returning South African citizens and permanent residents

“SAMSA, an entity of the Department of Transport,  is also monitoring the repatriation of seafarers who are currently overseas and waiting for arrangements for their travel home to be finalised.

“To date there are currently about 130 crew members in Sao Paolo, London, Frankfurt, Italy and Ghana. The Seafarers are receiving assistance from their respective employers and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

For its part, from as early as the second week of March, SAMSA, the country’s Registrar of Seafarers, announced special measures it would implement to facilitate for fast-tracking the speedy assistance of South African seafarers reportedly stranded abroad in a public notice placed also on its website.

Meanwhile, in addition to the half a dozen or so cruise liners and other vessels the country has had to handle during the national lockdown, DoT revealed also a list of those that were managed for Covid-19 infection.

The DoT listed these as including:

AIDAmira – docked in Cape Town on 16 March following a COVID-19 scare involving six AIDAmira passengers and two MV Corona bulk carrier crew, all of whom tested negative for the Corona Virus.

Arcadia – docked in Durban on 26 March. After COVID-19 test results came out negative for 13 asymptomatic individuals on board, the vessel docked to refuel and restock provisions, as well as allow six South African crew members to disembark and return home.

The Queen Mary 2 – docked in Durban on 31 March and disembarked six South African crew members, all of whom tested negative from COVID-19.

MSC Orchestra – currently working with the Department of Health to trace passengers following confirmation of positive test results for two individuals who cruised on 28 February and 16 March.

DoT said one vessel, a South African fishing vessel had its crew also quarantined in Cape Town as per regulations.

“The fishing vessel the CODESA 1 berthed in the Port of Cape Town on 11 April 2020. The Master and crew are all South African. The vessel has been out at sea, did not visit any other country nor port, and provides an essential service, but has been subjected to the 14-days quarantine period on-board upon return as per current regulations,” it said.

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Maritime sector Covid-19 restrictions under constant review as South Africa settles with 21 day lockdown

Pretoria: 28 March 2019

Certain tough restrictions imposed on every aspect of life in South Africa on the basis of the country’s recent declaration of a state of National Disaster, as well as a three weeks population lockdown that began on midnight Thursday (March 26), as a response to the global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, are constantly receiving reviewal, according to the Department of Transport.

For the maritime sector, one such strict restriction is that related to the entry and exit of seafarers and associated personnel at any of the country’s ports, which are virtually closed to all international trade cargo except that deemed to be essential supplies.

In terms of the new special rules, vessels dropping anchor at or near any of the country’s ports are not allowed disembarkment of seafarers and therefore not permitted to change crews, even if the seafarers are South African.

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South Africa Transport Minister, Mr Fikile Mbalula

However, in a statement in Pretoria on Friday, Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula said that specific restriction was urgently being reviewed, this coming in the wake of an incident in Durban, where  a crew of  six (6) South African seafarers on a cruise ship, the Queen Mary 2 (erroneously named as the Queen Elizabeth 2), were disallowed disembarkment, according to the lockdown rules.

“These South Africans want to disembark and return home.  However, our regulations do not allow crew changes at any of our ports, even if these are South Africans. The Queen Mary 2 is waiting for clearance to enter the port in order to refuel and take provisions.  This is a matter we are urgently considering,’ said Mr Mbalula in Pretoria on Friday.

The confirmation of the reviewal came as South Africa ended its first of 21 days of a national lockdown in terms of a declared State of Natonal Disaster in line with a global scramble to ward off or limit the grossly negative impacts of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic now in its fourth month since its outbreak in China in December 2019.

As of Friday, the start of the national lockdown, South Africa recorded a rising figure of just over 1000 people found infected by the virus as well as confirmation of the death of the first person due to the pandemic.

The Health Ministry in a report on Friday gave a breakdown of the nature and extent of infection, stating that of the total 1170 people so far found to be positive of the Covid-19 virus, those hospitalised (both public and private) included 55 patients in intensive care units and three (3) in ventilations while 31 had recovered.

Of those infected, a total 4407 of those with whom they had been in contact had been identified and of these, 3465 successfully traced for their locations. The ministry also raised alarm that: “There is an increase in the rate of internal transmissions. Patients without a history of travelling abroad have been detected in many provinces.” – a situation giving justification to a clampdown n the movement of people between provinces and districts during the 21 day nationwide lockdown in order to prevent further infections.

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The SA Agulhas, South Africa’s dedicated cadet training vessel owned and operated by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

Meanwhile, with regards the fate of seafarers, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), announced a raft of measures aimed at assisting the country’s seafarers.

The statement said:

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Republic of South Africa announced measures to combat the spread of the disease by declaring a State of Disaster and putting the country on lockdown effective midnight on 26 March 2020.

“The results of such lockdown is that all businesses are required to close doors except for those offering essential services. The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and its stakeholders have been affected by the lockdown as a result only with essential services being rendered. As such, the services for seafarers which are rendered directly by SAMSA and/or its clients/stakeholders may not be delivered during the lockdown, viz:

  1. No training of seafarers for short courses over the period, academic programmes may continue through ‘e-learning’ platforms
  2. No assessments for seafarer certification will be undertaken during this period.
  3. No eye sights test will be undertaken during the period.

The results of this is that seafarers whose certificates expire during this period are not able to attend re-fresher training whilst some are unable to sign-off their vessels. SAMSA has granted a general extension to all certificates expiring during the National State of Disaster as set out in the Marine Notice.

For this purpose, the production of the said Marine Notice shall be sufficient for Seafarers working on vessels trading within the South African Ports.

Seafarers working on foreign vessels may be required to produce specific individual documents expressing the extension of the certificate. To this end, seafarers and the employers may obtain such extension by completing the application forms below.

All extension requests shall be made using the form below;

Certificate extension Application Form – FOP-524.8 – Extension of Certificate.pdf

 We have also provided guidance below;

Completing Extension Form Guide – Completing Extension Form guide.docx

Users are requested to download the form from the link above and not to share with other persons to prevent missing out on changes that will produce negative results or return incorrect information. The system requires that all fields be completed correctly to ensure that the correct information is distributed.

Enquiries should be directed to the Registrar of Seafarers at seafarers@samsa.org.za  or the Chief Examiner at exams@samsa.org.za

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Eastern Cape may need review of its coastal land use practices for maritime sector development success: SAMSA

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Port St Johns: 27 August 2017

Land use practices along South Africa’s 3200 km coastline, but particularly the 800km coastline of the Eastern Cape Province and precisely the Wild Coast on the Indian Ocean, may have to be revisited if currently declared marine tourism plans will achieve the desired effect, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) urged this past week.

The call came from SAMSA Chief Operations Officer, Mr Sobantu Tilayi during a celebratory send-off event of some 97 youths due to be deployed on cruise tourism vessels worldwide from September 1, 2017.

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The 97 Eastern Cape youths selected for this year’s first intake of the Maritime Youth Development Programme (Eastern Cape) due to for deployment in permanent employment with MSC Cruise tourism vessels worldwide during their send-off celebratory event at Port St Johns on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape on Wednesday, 23 August 2017. They board their vessels from 01 September 2017.

The event on Wednesday (August 23) was held in Port St Johns on the Wild Coast, this year’s chosen venue for the World Maritime Day event in South Africa on September 28, 2017.

The send-off event of the 97 youths – almost double the original number of 50 targeted – was the culmination of a joint initiative- the Maritime Youth Development Programme (MYDP) – driven by SAMSA together with the Eastern Cape government and Johannesburg based non-governmental organization Harambee, to not only equip local youth with maritime skills, but to also help them find  employment.

 

The Eastern Cape ranks high on unemployment especially among youth, with the rate for particularly the Port St Johns area of the O.R Tambo District Municipality estimated at as much as 89%.

The group of 97, the first intake this year, will be taken on board cruise tourism vessels operated by MSC Cruises worldwide. It will be the first group under the MYDP programme in the Eastern Cape, but second nationally since launch of the initiative a year ago, with Gauteng Province.

Incidentally, the event in Port St Johns on Wednesday took place only days after national Parliament announced the formal approval of the Operation Phakisa (Ocean Economy) Marine and Tourism Implementation Plan and among whose initial targets over the next five years will be the tourism area of Port St Johns, along with East London and Port Elizabeth.

The announcement was made on Friday, August 18 by Tourism Minister, Ms Tokozile Xasa.

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Part of the Eastern Cape’s 800km long coastline, with Port St Johns on the Wild Coast showing a the top.

The Eastern Cape has the second longest coastline – some 800km of the country’s 3200km coastline – after the Western Cape, followed by KwaZulu-Natal and in fourth place, the Northern Cape.

In her announcement, Ms Xasa described the Marine and Coastal Tourism Implementation Plan’s vision as encompassing an envisaged development and growth of “a world class and sustainable coastal and marine tourism destination that leverages South Africa’s competitive advantage in nature, culture, and heritage.”

 

This according to Ms Xasa was against the backdrop of projections that the coastal and marine tourism sector will contribute about R21.4-billion to the GDP and create about 116 000 direct jobs by 2026, in the process, helping alleviate poverty, inequality and unemployment, while contributing to sustainable livelihoods and development.

“These estimates,” she said: “are conservative as they are growing off a low 2015 base of R 11.9-billion direct contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 64 400 direct jobs.”

Ms Xasa said the Coastal and Marine Tourism Plan would be implemented in a nodal or cluster approach that would “prioritise destinations rather than individual tourism projects or products.”

The identified nodes/clusters in the first phase of five (5) years) would focus primarily on the country’s four coastal provinces, she said.

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Mr Sobantu Tilayi. COO: South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

In Port St Johns on Wednesday, Mr Tilayi described the development as a major boost for areas such as those on the Wild Coast, inclusive of Port St Johns.

However, this had implications for land use practices in the areas, Mr Tilayi told both the Eastern Cape Premier, Mr Phumulo Masaulle and AmaMpondo King, His Royal Highness; Ndamase Ndamase both of whom graced the send-off event with their presence.

According to Mr Tilayi, the initiatives would go a long way in helping development of maritime sector related socio-economic activities in the areas identified and would require direct participation by local communities.

He pointed out, however, that land use practices along particularly the Wild Coast area would need focus and possible review, in order to enable wholesome and mutual benefit for all inhabitants.

 

Mr Tilayi did not enumerate particular problematic land use practices, save to indicate that SAMSA would soon engage with the local traditional leadership as well as the provincial government on the issues.

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Ms Lindelwa Kolobile. Port St Johns mayor

However, Port St Johns mayor, Ms Lindelwa Kolobile laid bare some of the challenges facing land use practices in the area. In her brief speech, Ms Kolobile said there was an increasing trend of unauthorized land occupation by residents and made an impassioned plea to both the Eastern Cape government as well as King Ndamase to intervene. To listen to her remarks, Click Here

About the departing local youth due for employment on MSC Cruise ships worldwide from September 2017, Mr Tilayi urged them and their parents to fully support the efforts being made in the area to alleviate both unemployment and associated high poverty levels.

To the youths – about 50 of the 97 from Port St Johns – he said their responsibility was not only to themselves but also their country which they had to represent well.

The youth also needed to recognize, he said; that their performance at work in the months and years ahead would reflect on the caliber of South African youth and where positive, increase the chances of more youths being employed on cruise ships and related opportunities in the maritime sector.

IMG_7051“You have to bear in mind that you, South Africans, are not only competing for work on cruise liners among yourselves, but are competing with several countries all over the world. If you conduct yourselves badly you will be fired, that is guaranteed.

“But remember this that, should you misbehave and lose the jobs due to poor behavior, you will have not only wasted your own opportunity, but will have also jeopardized chances for your fellow South Africans as well.

“So go out there, and makes us all proud,” he said, congratulating them for having secured jobs in the maritime sector.

For Mr Tilayi’s full address on video, Click Here.

For more coverage of the event in videos, please visit the Features Page