SA ports a viable and safe alternative hub for cargo vessel stopover and crew changes

18 May 2021: News reports of 14 crew members of a vessel from India who tested positive for Covid-19 at the Durban harbour have once again shone the spotlight on the vulnerability of our ports and the country’s openness to new and more transmissible variants of the deadly virus. This comes after Network for Genomic […]

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18 May 2021: News reports of 14 crew members of a vessel from India who tested positive for Covid-19 at the Durban harbour have once again shone the spotlight on the vulnerability of our ports and the country’s openness to new and more transmissible variants of the deadly virus. This comes after Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) confirmed that eight new cases of the B1.617.2 Covid variant, first discovered in India, have been detected in KwaZulu-Natal.

The global spotlight on the coronavirus pandemic has currently turned onto India, which has recorded more than 20 million cases and still counting.

The number of recorded Covid-19 infections in India has climbed above 24 million, amid reports that the highly transmissible coronavirus mutant first detected in the country was spreading across the globe.

Reports on cases of the Indian variant of the virus are concerning. These incidents require the maritime industry in South Africa to be up to the task of filtering and vetting crews not only from India, but also from other countries around the world.

Our ports of entry are our first line of defence. They should therefore be capacitated with sound expertise and professionals that will ensure that the correct procedures are put in place to vet and filter further transmission of the pandemic.

The importance of the country’s ports of entry cannot be over emphasised. South Africa is a strategic African hub for maritime operations in the South-South trade corridor from Asia to the east coast of South America and serves an important connector route to the east and west coast of Africa.

The International Trade Administration (ITC) has lauded a number of South Africa’s ports as important hubs for maritime connectivity. Closing these ports would have far-reaching repercussions on international trade as well as a devasting impact on the country’s economy.

Maritime companies like Servest have built capacity over the years to provide an array of services to transit vessels, including, but not limited to, core services such as transportation of provisions and spares, crew changes, water transfers, VIP transport and other value added services such as meet and assist, fogging and sanitation, courier services, storage and security services

Local ports are well positioned to offer mariners’ isolation centres for crews disembarking from ships until they can be repatriated home on chartered flights. This co-ordination allows for the needs of the crew and vessels to be met, ensure timeous delivery of spares, meet and assist crew groups and dispatch medical practitioners when the need arises. The South African maritime industry has been working closely with all stakeholders and organisations in limiting the risk of the spread of virus during crew changes, and all our airports have the necessary amenities to conduct testing before boarding.

South Africa has made great milestones in ensuring Covid-19 readiness and preparedness to position the country as a viable vessel stopover for cargo vessels and for safer crew changes. Though many shipping companies decided to steer clear of South African ports because of fears of being infected with the new variant of Covid-19, the vaccine for the South African variant of the virus has been discovered and the country’s ports are still safely hosting marine traffic from various countries including Greece, Russia, China, Pakistan and the Philippines.

The South African government and the private sector have implemented strict safety protocols to ensure the welfare of marine crews passing through our ports. For example, Servest is exploring the feasibility of conducting Covid-19 tests for crews in the comfort of their hotels and at airports to prevent delays in transit. Servest envisages this service to be available 24 hours of the day, and it will be conducted in strict compliance with health and safety protocols.

Health authorities have announced that Phase 2 of the vaccination programme will commence on May 17, which will add another 16.5 million South Africans to the vaccine roster. People who will be targeted for this phase of the vaccination programme include South Africans over 60 and over 18s with co-morbidities, as they are generally considered the most vulnerable to the disease.

All these efforts by government are going a long way to enhance the value proposition of our ports.

A number of countries have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa, including 64 that have enacted major restrictions including Australia, United Kingdom, United States, United Arab Emirates and Brazil. What this means is that travel to any of these countries may be suspended, the country closed and travel only possible if you are a citizen or meet certain strict criteria.

While it is still early to quantify the impact of these restrictions on the economy and on human traffic, they do not adversely impact on South Africa’s attractiveness as a viable transit point. South Africa’s positioning on the maritime trade route offers maritime connectivity; its modern airports provide easy access to major international destinations, hotels and medical facilities, which makes the country an ideal hub for crew changes and OPL services.

The South African government has done an exceptional job in building the ocean’s economy. Through the several development projects undertaken under Operation Phakisa, South Africa has significantly improved its maritime value proposition. One such project involves deepening the entrance channel to Durban harbour and widening it from 122 to 230 metres. The Durban harbour is the main container port on the South African coastline; it handles approximately 60% of South Africa’s container traffic and serves KwaZulu-Natal, the Gauteng region and a large portion of the Southern African hinterland.

South Africa is situated on one of the busiest international sea routes‚ critical to international maritime transportation‚ and its geographical location presents a huge opportunity for investing in a diversified maritime market. The country has eight major ports, two world-class container ports and two top dry bulk ports.

South Africa’s strategic geographical location puts the country in an ideal position to serve as an alternative and viable transit route for international trade. The maritime sector is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that the increasing traffic will bring to the economy.

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