Pretoria: 09 December 2021
With only a day to go before the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 176 Member States gathered in London this week, and next; for the 32nd Regular Session of their Assembly, decide on who among 49 countries vying for election will constitute its IMO Council on Friday, South Africa remains cautiously optimistic to retain its seat.
South Africa, located at the most southern tip of the African continent with approximately 3000km of a coastline stretching across three oceans, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Southern Ocean to the south and the Indian Ocean to the east – and therefore holding a globally significant geographic maritime position – is among a group of five countries from the continent vying for a seat in the IMO 40-member Council for the 2021-23 period.
The others are Egypt, Morocco (Mediterranean), Kenya (Indian Ocean), and Nigeria (Atlantic Ocean). Voting for the 40 member IMO council takes place on Friday, using an in-person-private vote system.
South Africa, one of the founding members of the IMO but subsequently suspended from active membership for many years until 1995 submits that it is optimistic, however, cautiously; that it will retain its seat.
According to its submission to members of the IMO Assembly this week, its optimism arises from its consistent, active participation in especially the technical work of the IMO, this in addition to its being a “State Party to the key IMO Conventions that promote safety, security and the protection of the marine and atmospheric environment.”
Among these are the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS); the Marine Environment Protection Convention (MARPOL) and the Search and Rescue Convention.”
South Africa states: “The Government of the Republic of South Africa is convinced that South Africa’s re-election to the Council will further contribute to the ongoing efforts towards the achievement of the goals of the International Maritime Organization (MO).”
These include safety of property and life at sea, protection of the environment from pollution by ships, as well as active promotion of the maritime sector domestically, regionally and globally – all mandated through legislation to a strategically located agency, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) to discharge, under the watchful eye of the national Department of Transport.
With eight specialised commercial ports and several small vessels harbours spread across the coastline from the border of Namibia to the west (Atlantic Ocean) to Mozambique in the east (Indian Ocean) – variously catering to an ever-growing global trade cargo, marine tourism and academic research fleet of vessels of various sizes – the country’s active and continuous contribution to IMO activities remains vital.
South Africa is also a part of the western Indian Ocean regions that contain 14 major commercial ports – seven of her own (Cape Town, Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth, Ngqura, East London, Durban and Richards Bay (South Africa) as well as those in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Maputo, Beira, Nacala, Quelimane, Pemba (Mozambique), and Mombasa (Kenya). These serve as hubs for traffic emanating from, and destined for, Europe, Asia, the Americas and the east and west coast of Africa.
In addition to the large cargo ships traveling internationally, the country says; many smaller boats serving local needs ply the coastal waters and harbours and, in the process, adding to the considerable navigation risks faced by large ships.
In its submission to the IMO Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session ahead of Friday’s IMO Council Elections, the country states: “South Africa as a fully democratic country continues to be an active and loyal member of the International Maritime Organization. The Government of South Africa is very keen to continuously work with the IMO towards promotion of safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping.
“South Africa has developed domestic legislation to implement the adopted Conventions and such pieces of legislation include the South African Maritime Safety Authority Act, 1998. The Act establishes SAMSA as an agency of government charged with the responsibility to promote safety of shipping; protect the marine and atmospheric environment and promote South Africa’s maritime interests.”
To this end, South Africa boasts among other things; a dedicated Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) that positions her as a regional leader in terms of hosting state-of-the-art search and rescue infrastructure and services for the Southern African Region:
“As a coastal State, we manage and maintain a system of AIDS to navigation including lighthouses, a fully-fledged Marine Hydrographic Service, as well as Emergency Response Capacity, which includes a Search and Rescue Centre, Emergency Towing Vessel, Information and Communication Systems.
“These systems give assurance to international shipping on the safety of shipping along the SA coastline as well as supports the entire Southern African Region.
“Our search and rescue region extend to Antarctica and our LRIT Data Centre caters for more countries in the region. We have over the years fully discharged our duty of ensuring order at sea by all the systems we have put in place, including our anti-piracy initiative in the Mozambique Channel.
“South Africa (also) became a member COSPAS/ SARSAT programme since May 2001, and the system in Cape Town detects on a yearly average 607 Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacons (EPIRBS) that transmit on 121.5 MHz. Detection of the modern and new technology 406 MHz beacons is 4 increasing and at the moment, the averages are 200 detections per annum, and this is based on the information passed on to South Africa.
Alongside that aspect of work, SAMSA conducts inspections on foreign vessels visiting her ports and regionally, the country works in tandem with neighbouring countries conjoined by their borderline access to the affected oceans. South Africa is a member of two port state control regimes; the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding and the Abuja Memorandum of Understanding.
It is also notable that South Africa was the first country worldwide to formally implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) inspired and driven Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) – a pioneering position that has since led to her consulting extensively with other countries still at early stages of the convention’s implementation.
At this year’s General Assembly, South Africa is backing fully the IMO General Assembly’s adoption of entry into force and implementation of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement. In her submission South Africa says that in terms of current arrangements, for the Agreement to be in force, at least 22 States with an aggregate number of the qualifying fishing vessels must ratify/accede to it.
To date, 16 States with an aggregated fleet of 1907 eligible fishing vessels have ratified the instrument.
South Africa’s view is that: “South Africa, as the host of the International Conference on the Safety of Fishing Vessels held in Cape Town in 2012 and signed the Agreement and the 2019 Torremolinos Declaration, supports the adoption of the draft resolution on the entry into force and implementation of the Agreement.
“The entry into force of the Agreement will increase safety standards on fishing vessel design, construction and equipment will also positively impact the working conditions of fishing vessel personnel and the safety of the search and rescue and emergency response services in mitigating the consequences of fishing vessel casualties. Furthermore, the Agreement will assist in the prevention of marine pollution, including plastic pollution, from fishing vessels and in combatting IUU fishing.”
In addition, from a global marine law perspective, South Africa has a long tradition with the Maritime Law Association of South Africa populated by some of the world respected jurists, thereby ensuring that its maritime arbitration capability is one of the well-respected in the world.”
The country states: “South Africa can therefore, with its strategic position at the tip of the continent straddling three oceans, coupled with our well-established technical capability and skills base, make a meaningful contribution to the activities of the IMO Council in service to international shipping.
On global collaboration in general, South Africa was due to host the World Maritime Day Parallel Event in 2020 but the IMO had to postpone the event due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The outgoing IMO Council had, however, approved retaining South Africa as host of the event in 2022 conditional to the COVID-19 pandemic trends.
During this year’s IMO Assembly, South Africa also intends to sign the Jeddah Amendment to Djibouti Code of Conduct (the Code) with the IMO Secretary General. The Code aims to suppress transnational organised crime and other illegal activities at sea.
On the elections of the new IMO Council for 2022-2023 biennium , while South Africa remains optimistic of retaining her seat, should things go completely awry for some inexplicable reason, the country may still stand a chance of returning to serve in the council as currently there is a proposal before the IMO Assembly to expand the council’s membership from 40 seats to 52.
The proposal, which South Africa has given her support, further calls for the IMO Council’s term of office to be extended from two (years) to four (years).
In her submission to the IMO Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session currently underway, South Africa states that: “South Africa would like to support the draft amendments to Articles 16, 17, 18, 19(b) and 81 of the IMO Convention and the associated draft Assembly resolution.
“We believe that the expansion of members to the IMO Council will ensure that there is diversity, geographical spread and representation of the interests of all IMO Member States.”