Ministers Must Ensure Country's Shipping Industry Doesn't End Up All at Sea

Article excerpt

The new ministers of transport and of public enterprises have begun work, each with a deputy minister nogal.

Once the dust has settled, one hopes that from the sea of new faces at both national and provincial government levels, someone will emerge as a real champion for the shipping industry.

As more than 90 percent of the country's trade is seaborne, and large volumes of grain are imported to feed both locals and our neighbours, shipping is far more important than even the taxi industry to the South African economy, yet it is often ignored by the government.

Hailing from KwaZulu-Natal with two major ports - Durban, the busiest in Africa, and Richards Bay, handling the most cargo tonnage-wise in Africa - Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele will be aware of the importance of shipping, and will need to deal with issues that seem to be lingering on the back-burner.

Besides tonnage tax legislation - currently lost in Pretoria's bureaucratic maze - and the raft of associated issues that need attention, the legal beagles will hasten to point out other aspects of maritime-related legislation that need urgent review.

He will also need to explain to his cabinet colleague, Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande, that the country's maritime training and certification system, including the standards maintained by tertiary institutions, must comply with international standards if South African certificates of competency in navigation or marine engineering or even cooking at sea are to be recognised internationally.

At present, South Africa appears on the so-called "white list", indicating that local training and certification systems do comply with the International Maritime Organisation's high standards.

To maintain those standards, experienced sea-going officers need to be attracted to lecture at maritime training institutions, with one of the incentives being salaries that are comparable with the norms in the shipping industry.

Among the criteria that are audited with international maritime training standards as the benchmark are the relevant qualifications and experience of lecturers, and appointments to these institutions based on other criteria will not wash with the auditors.

A negative audit report could result in South Africa being removed from the white list, which would spell disaster for hundreds of South African seafarers, whose certificates could not be revalidated, as well as new entrants who would be disqualified from their chosen career at sea. It would also trash any ideas of large numbers of South Africans gaining sea-going employment to alleviate the unemployment problem.

So it is of fundamental importance that the ministers concerned do all in their power to ensure that the country's white-list status is retained.

Entrusted with the public enterprises portfolio, into which Transnet falls, the highly rated Barbara Hogan will understand the importance of efficient ports to the country.

Commendable has been Transnet's considerable expenditure on port infrastructural development, mainly in container terminals, tug construction programmes and other special projects such as the widening of Durban harbour entrance and Ngqura harbour which, we are told, will come on stream in October. …