by Richard Webb

The Maritime Sector - Ready to do Business

Commander Tsietsi Mokhele, the head of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), shares with us the enormous opportunities the maritime sector holds for our economy, explains the need to involve the private sector in developing opportunities on the African continent and explains the potential the sector holds for developing an inclusive society.


SAMSA turned 15 years this year. Has its focus shifted during this time?

The 15th anniversary of SAMSA is quite exciting because we have grown and matured quite significantly as an organisation. SAMSA was born out of the department of Transport which used to have a section called Shipping. The agency was established in 1998 and for the first 10 years of our existence, we were focused on issues of technical excellence that revolved mainly around instruments of compliance with international shipping regulations.


However, on our 10th anniversary in 2008, we put SAMSA on a new curve and dedicated the next 10 years to driving the country’s agenda on maritime. Our focus on compliance remains strong, but creating value for our national economy is now an added focus.


From your perspective what have been its major achievements?

Although I have only been with SAMSA for the past six years, my association with the sector and SAMSA has always been a strong one, either through the time I spent in the navy or during my time at Transnet. In some respects this gives me a unique perspective when I reflect on our achievements. Firstly, we have managed to assert ourselves as a centre of excellence in maritime technical regulatory compliance systems. Our success in this regard has been of such significance, that we are highly regarded internationally. Consequently, on the African continent, we are deemed as the platform for ensuring compliance with international instruments. The second area where SAMSA has done exceptionally well, is to create awareness with respect to the potential that is contained in our maritime industry in order to create wealth for our people and in order to contribute to the growth of our economy. I think in this regard, for the last five years SAMSA has done exceptionally well.


In the last two years we have also started looking at some of the dynamics within the sector – particularly with respect to human capital development. It is a given that you can’t build a sector if you don’t have skilled people. Growth in a sector very often comes down to the availability of human expertise and competence. We have therefore invested a lot in ensuring that we drive excellence in the way we develop, educate and train our people. I am confident that we are going to see the benefits of this in the future. In many ways the last 15 years has closed the loop for us, in that SAMSA is now (and deservedly so) the apex maritime authority for South Africa, which is able to contribute to the economic transformation agenda that is so important to our people.


South Africa has the largest coastline on the African continent. In this regard what are the specific challenges that you have as an authority?

South Africa’s status in the world, in maritime terms, has to do with the fact that we are the only country that is bound by three oceans. We have the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Indian Ocean to the east and the Southern Ocean to the South. None of these oceans flows into the other; each is a separate ecosystem. While the three oceans present significant challenges, there are also other factors to take into consideration. Firstly, if you look at our exclusive economic zone, it is three times larger than the land size of South Africa – it is a huge area.Secondly, South Africa is on one of the world’s major sea routes. Being the custodian of a major sea route; for goods, cargo and trade, which are not only meant for South Africa, but for other economies, brings its own challenges. The third factor is the responsibility that we have towards this exclusive economic zone - our ‘tenth province’. As a country, we have not always understood or taken charge of developing it and there is certainly work to be done in this regard.


What are the practical implications of these challenges?

If we group these three together it means that on behalf of the whole world and all of humanity, we are responsible for three oceans. From a marine environmental protection perspective, this places a heavy onus on us to ensure that the existing marine resources are not depleted and are replenished from time to time. From a trade perspective, there are many services that we provide as South Africa, sometimes not because people are asking for them. Instead we do it because we think it’s a contribution to world trade. By this I mean that the ships that are passing the southern Cape have to be secure, thus drawing us into maritime security issues such as anti-piracy activities to ensure that all our waters are free of threats.Therefore, we have to have resources to look after the environment and in cases of trouble, render aid.


What is the economic impact of this responsibility?

It demands massive resources from us to look after our oceans and coastline. The burden of that responsibility, in financial terms, can only be offset if we develop the industry. So that we look at the oceans not as an expense of the fiscal, but rather as an asset that can be used to raise money, from the industry that utilises our water. I think this is where the balance has been missing for South Africa; we spend money looking after this global traffic, but we were not developing the maritime industry out of which we ought to be getting resources to look after the oceans. Things are certainly changing and going forward we need to keep two pillars in balance: compliance and services to others, while at the same time development, economics and benefits out of our oceans.


Africa is on the cusp of significant economic growth. Yet marine authorities in countries along its coastline are underdeveloped or not in existence in some areas. What role do you think SAMSA can play to help develop these countries?

Africa is an island continent; the second biggest on the planet. Yet, historically, we don’t see ourselves as living on an island. Every day that Africa trades with others, the goods are transferred via the sea. Everything we use that is not made on the continent comes to us by ship. Thus shipping is very important to the continent. The African coastline is over 30 000kms with 70% of African countries being coastal (39 out of 55). This means that the emergence of Africa cannot be reduced to the minerals that are sourced from the continent. We have to make sure that the oceans that serve the trade have very good systems of looking after the coastline. The incidents in Somalia are a typical example of what happens when one does not look after the marine environment and resources at sea. We have started working with African institutions, organisations, leaders and countries with a view to addressing the many challenges ahead. Many African countries have not drawn their water line borders, meaning that they cannot claim exclusive economic rights to exploit the sea bed, the sub sea bed and oceanic resources such as fish, oil, gas and minerals. We are therefore urging all African countries to address this and suggesting we develop one system wherein we can assist each other.


Another important area is infrastructure development. Trade growth always goes with the ability to exchange goods with others. The ports in Africa are still not developed; the infrastructure is still narrowly based. There are countries that can unlock enormous GDP growth simply through addressing their port infrastructure. Wherever possible we are saying to African countries; let’s coordinate logistics, infrastructure and human capital development. We want to work in partnership with countries to develop the strength of their capacities. The adoption of the African Integrated Maritime Strategy is going to be a big boost in this regard.We already have the African Maritime Transport Charter and we believe between these two instruments we are going to put together a partnership on the continent that is going to be beneficial to all role players. The reality is Africa is our largest market and the biggest intra-regional mover of trade in the continent, is South Africa. Twenty five per cent of African trade is moved by South Africans and those markets are important to us. At the same time, we think that they constitute the natural hinterland for us. It is a market of a billion people and there are certainly opportunities for highly productive South African companies in these markets.


In your experience, is the private sector keen to work with the relevant authorities to see the maritime sector developed on the continent?

Bringing the private sector closer to the development opportunities in this space is probably one of the biggest challenges we are wrestling with.The 2013 BRICS summit taught us that the strength of South Africa’s partners in the BRICS formation, lies in how the private sectors are working together with their governments. In many of these economies the private sectors are drivers through innovative thinking, processes and so on. However, on the continent, the economies are dominated by governments where parastatals and government departments do work which, logically, should be released to the private sector. On the other hand, the private sector has not always understood the power that comes with partnering with their governments.


In that regard we held the country’s first ever maritime industry conference in Cape Town during 2013. We invited many people from government departments and private sector, within Africa. The model that emerged there is that governments must govern and participate in the economy. However, the private sector ought to be encouraged, promoted and grown, if Africa is going to win in the space of economic development. Shipping without private sector innovative and creative thinking is not going to take off. Therefore we are very clear in our minds that we need a private sector that is engaging, that solves social problems, that supports systems and wants to grow the African economy. Getting the balance right is going to take hard work, but I am heartened by the fact that the desire is there to make this a reality.


What are your perspectives on the role of shipping in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)?

About 70% of South Africa’s GDP is based on trade and 19% of this trade takes place via the maritime sector. If we are going to succeed both in meeting the 2015 goals and beyond, there are three issues that we need to tackle and we need to do so forcefully.The first is dealing with issues of building an inclusive society. Because this is a new economy, it’s an economy that has an opportunity to, right from the beginning, be inclusive of women, men and people of different nationalities. I think if we can show the world that we can do this as Africa, the benefits will be enormous.The second issue is that of jobs. In the South African market alone, we think that the sector can contribute about 400 000 jobs! Our global trade is 3.5% sea borne trade, if we take that number and convert it into 3.5% of the jobs then we will tackle the issue of unemployment in South Africa and the continent.


Lastly there is the issue of environmental sustainability. Fortunately, Africa is the least of polluted continents, but by not having proper governance systems, we find ourselves faced with things like the depletion of fishing stocks, poaching and an environment that is generally not conducive to the increase in the population of the marine species. All of these elements mean that there is a direct link between developing the maritime economy and meeting the MDGs. Can we get there? Yes, but we all need to play our part.


Do you think Africa can get to the point where it produces good seafarers, such as the Philippines does?

In South Africa alone we think there is the potential to introduce between 40 000-50 000 seafarers into the world trade. There is a shortage of 230 000 seafarers - these are 2008 statistics drawn before the collapse of the world economies. When we re-emerged from the crisis, we were convinced that there are 400 000 jobs available. Hence, we need to start now. In this space, many countries are calling for inclusive multinational crews on the ships and vessels across the globe. Africa is continent of one billion people with 80% dependent on seaborne trade. Why wouldn’t we want to participate in a market that is so open? As long as we train well, then I am certain we can place well.


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