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SA loses its seat on global council as infighting shifts focus

South Africa has lost its seat on International Maritime Organisation (IMO) after failing to campaign for enough seats to keep it in the prestigious council which makes decisions on marine practices the world over. File Image: International Maritime Organisation website

South Africa has lost its seat on International Maritime Organisation (IMO) after failing to campaign for enough seats to keep it in the prestigious council which makes decisions on marine practices the world over. File Image: International Maritime Organisation website

Published Dec 22, 2021

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South Africa has lost its seat on International Maritime Organisation (IMO) after failing to campaign for enough seats to keep it in the prestigious council which makes decisions on marine practices the world over.

According to close sources, while it is South Africa the country that has lost the seat, the issues that led to this lie squarely on the shoulders of the South African Maritime Safety Association (Samsa), currently embroiled in board and corporate disputes that made it impossible for the country to campaign and network in time to acquire enough votes to retain its seat.

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The implications are accreditation for South Africans working on international waters in any capacity, as Samsa is tasked with ensuring the credentials of individuals, vessels and projects undertaken off South Africa’s 3 000km shoreline, as well as losing the confidence of countries it partnered with off the ocean shores.

Some people looking for jobs on international waters may not be found eligible as the country’s standards are considered to be slipping, after it failed to take care of issues at the Samsa level.

“The one person (suspended CEO Sobantu Tlayi) who ensured that South Africa garnered the votes (has been) on suspension since April last year. The loss of the vote is mainly due to two things - the perception of South Africa as being absolutely corrupt by its seafaring peers and the failure (by) Samsa to live up to its standards after the suspension of officials since April without due process,” a source said.

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According to Samsa, South Africa’s failure to retain its seat in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Council last Friday, coupled with Nigeria’s failed effort to gain a seat, has come as a significant disappointment to the country.

Samsa said it was disappointed for South Africa following Friday’s IMO Council elections.

Samsa, a state agency operating under the Department of Transport, works closely with the department and relevant others in terms of IMO-related matters. Samsa and department officials often travel to the IMO in London where they serve on various IMO committees and South Africa also has a permanent representative at the organisation.

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“For Samsa, it is just to say we are deeply disappointed by the outcome of the IMO Council vote, but even so we will continue supporting the IMO work and ensure that we continue with our concerted efforts in respective committees to advance the African approach with respect to implementation of IMO conventions we have acceded to.

“So, emphasis will be enhancing our work in legal, technical committees, MSC (Maritime Safety Committee) and MEPC (Marine Environment Protection Committee),” said Samsa’s acting CEO, Tsepiso Taoana-Mashiloane.

With eight specialised commercial ports and several small vessels harbours spread across the coastline – 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.

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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 the safety of shipping, protect the marine and atmospheric environment and promote South Africa’s maritime interests.

“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," Samsa said.

South Africa 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 supports, also calls for the IMO Council’s term of office to be extended from two years to four.

Senior Department of Transport officials, including Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, Acting Director-General Mthunzi Madiya supported by staff from the Maritime Branch, as well as Samsa’s acting CEO Tsepiso Taoana-Mashiloane and the head of Samsa corporate affairs Vusi September, had gathered at a Pretoria venue to participate virtually during the IMO Assembly session from Monday last week.

South Africa was working on several bills to increase its maritime safety and these include the much-awaited Merchant Shipping Bill, the Marine Pollution Prevention Amendment Bill as well as the Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response Bill.

“This loss presents an opportunity for South Africa to go back to the drawing board and regroup with the aim of coming back with a vigorous and a revamped campaign that will ensure that South Africa reclaims its rightful place in the IMO as well as attains its ambition of becoming an international maritime centre by 2030,’’ said Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula.

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