Local maritime industry leaders say dilapidation and neglect at the country’s major ports is reducing their competitiveness.
Further, they warn that foreign vessels and crews are elbowing out local shipping companies through anti-competitive behaviour.
These were among issues raised strongly by industry players when they met Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula in Durban yesterday.
Mbalula was in the port city to unveil a set of investments aimed at reviving the ailing sector, which was battered by the Covid-19 pandemic. These were part of Operation Phakisa, an initiative that government hopes will help unlock the country’s ocean economy.
Mbalula’s first stop was Dormac Marine & Engineering, a shipbuilding company operating from the Port of Durban.
Speaking after a tour of the firm’s large shipyard, Mbalula said he, together with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Transnet National Ports Authority, have given the go-ahead for a number of investments in the country’s ports.
Among these is an investment by the Strategic Fuel Fund in an onshore liquid natural gas (LNG) regasification facility at the Port of Ngqura, and an investment by Mnambithi Terminals in a liquid bulk terminal in the Port of Durban.
“These investments are a catalyst towards the realisation of tangible economic interventions and improving the competitiveness of our ports and grow the sector contribution to economic reconstruction and recovery,” Mbalula said.
However, on the second leg of his Durban trip, Mbalula encountered several dissatisfied captains of industry, who raised serious concerns about the oceans economy and the shocking decline of South Africa’s competitiveness in the maritime sector.
Captain Ian Rosario, a senior official from Mediterranean Shipping Company, lamented the neglect of South African ports, saying the effect is now being felt by operators.
“We see that there is not enough investment within the container terminals (in the ports). At the Port of Durban and the Port of Cape Town to be specific... [The ports are] progressively being dilapidated and there are not enough viaducts within the terminals,” Rosario said.
Mbalula had earlier alluded to too little attention being given to maintaining South Africa’s ports.
“Infrastructure in our ports is ageing as a result of sub-optimal investment. Minimal maintenance for many years is affecting the competitiveness of the ports,” he said.
Chief executive of Durban-based shipping company Linsen Nambi, Durandt Naidoo, told Mbalula that foreign vessels were undercutting them through anti-competitive behaviour, and pleaded that laws be enforced so local companies could get into the maritime space.
“Right now in South Africa, we have foreign ships that have foreign crews, whereas those skills they are available and they are sitting at home and they are unemployed. And the reason for this is because the foreign vessels with the foreign crews can compete with lower rates because they pay no tax in South Africa because they are not South African companies. This is undermining the industry,” Naidoo said.
He said that foreign companies, mainly in the ports of Richards Bay and Cape Town, could be operating in the country illegally.
“These companies are actually operating unlawfully because they have a South African bunker licence, but it isn’t a South African company that is operating it. So what needs to happen is that these companies need to have their licences revoked, at the very least not renewed, so that we can have these South African ships in the market.”