by Andrew Ngozo

Behind the Scene in the Maritime Sector

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is a South African government institution accountable to the minister of transport. SAMSA was established on 1 April 1998 in terms of the South African Maritime Safety Authority Act 5 of 1998 and is governed by a board made up of the chief executive officer (CEO) and six non-executive members, including the chair and deputy chair, as appointed by the minister. The organisation’s objectives are to be a leader and champion in respect of South Africa’s maritime interests, to be the custodian and steward of maritime policy, to be a vigorous promoter of the maritime sector, and to give full effect to its obligations for the benefit of all stakeholders.


The Authority’s mandate is vast, but chief among its many duties is to champion South Africa’s global maritime ambitions. How is such a mission to be achieved? Commander Tsietsi Mokhele, 








CEO of SAMSA, explains: “We aim to promote South Africa’s maritime interests and development and position the country as an international maritime centre while ensuring maritime safety, health and environmental protection.” This will be achieved in line with the objectives as stated in section 3 of the SAMSA Act. The organisation’s primary areas of responsibility include: participating in the development and implementation of national and international maritime safety and marine environment protection standards; enforcing technical and operational standards for all shipping operations in South African waters, and for South African ships anywhere, in order to promote responsible operations in terms of seaworthiness, safety and pollution prevention; enforcing training standards and the competency of seafarers who manage the national capability; and responding to marine pollution incidents and other maritime emergencies.


“SAMSA also operates the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to synchronise maritime assistance services and to detect and coordinate the location and rescue of people in maritime distress situations throughout the internationally agreed South African Search and Rescue Region. We also oversee the provision of maritime distress and safety communications services to discharge South Africa’s responsibilities under the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System,” shares Commander Mokhele. Additionally, the Authority is responsible for administering South Africa’s voluntary ship-reporting system for identifying and tracking ships at sea for safety purposes, as well as for providing a ship database for responding to marine emergencies. That is not all, he points out. “We investigate maritime casualties and deliver related services.” These services include: conducting public-awareness and education campaigns in marine safety and pollution prevention, and publication of, as well as the provision of access to, ship safety and environmental standards.


SAMSA delivers four main outputs consistent with its mandate and responsibilities. These are as follows:

  • Safety and environment protection standards for responsible maritime transport operations.

  • An infrastructure for monitoring and enforcing compliance with safety and environment protection standards.

  • The capability to respond to marine pollution incidents and other maritime emergencies.

  • The capability to detect, locate and rescue people in maritime distress situations.


Among the operating divisions within the Authority are the following:


Office of the Chief Examiner

The Office of the Chief Examiner maintains standards in respect of examinations and maritime training and education in accordance with the Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping (STCW) Convention and Code, together with the Merchant Shipping (Training and Certification) Regulations of 1999 and the South African Maritime Qualifications Code.


Policy and Regulatory

“We aim to navigate our way towards a developed and updated maritime policy and a regulatory regime that will position South Africa to become a world-class maritime economy,” states Commander Mokhele. To fulfil this mandate, SAMSA must ensure that it develops and implements legislation and regulations that ensure that it meets its domestic and international obligations. The Centre for Policy and Regulatory Affairs was therefore established to drive the policy and compliance agenda. This division endeavours to:

  • Develop a policy and regulatory framework.

  • Render assistance to the Department of Transport (DoT) as regards the drafting and formulation of policies, including maritime-related legislation.

  • Investigate changes in the policy, regulatory and legislative landscape relating to the maritime sector, including any other policies and legislation that impact on SAMSA on an ongoing basis, and to drive compliance therewith.

  • Bring about steward alignment and ratification of international conventions and codify them in domestic legislation, as well as leverage a global platform on best practice.

  • Advise the organisation, and provide regular updates on, changes in the regulatory and legislative environment, recommend implementation plans, and, where necessary, conduct training.

  • Steward and coordinate the formulation of internal policies.

  • Build collaborative partnerships and platforms in order to engage with key stakeholders (e.g. the DoT and industry bodies), review and discuss local and international developments in jurisprudence, as well as discuss the impact and relevance thereof with regard to South Africa’s maritime industry, and recommend implementation plans.

  • Develop a risk-management framework.

  • Provide strategic, proactive and timeous legal support in connection with specific SAMSA projects, programmes or initiatives, including structuring and negotiating transactions or agreements to support ongoing business activities.

  • Provide legal-contract management support for other functions within SAMSA, including developing contract-management routines and processes. (Contract management includes, but is not limited to, drafting the terms and conditions of contracts, as well as negotiating, reviewing and drafting agreements.)

  • Oversee a culture of legal compliance, minimise SAMSA’s legal risk/exposure, and recommend corrective actions/mitigation plans.

  • Advise SAMSA, and keep it updated, with regard to legal developments or legislation which impacts or affects the organisation, including identifying risks and opportunities.

  • Manage outsourced matters, including managing a panel of attorneys.


Centre for Ships and Boating

Ensuring safe ships and clean seas through compliance with applicable requirements will mean a smooth flow of trade into the country, and from South Africa to the world. This entails a survey of ships, that is, of all South African-registered convention ships, nonconvention ships and small boats. It also includes: combating marine pollution, with SAMSA becoming the lead agency during a pollution incident; accident investigation in respect of all ships in South African waters; cargo surveys covering, among others, grain, selected bulk ores, dangerous goods, and bulk chemicals; port state control involving the inspection of foreign-flagged ships in South African ports; as well as the accreditation of industry service providers such as life-raft service stations, fire-appliance service stations and medical doctors.


Sea Watch and Response

To comply with the requirements of International Maritime Organization (IMO) Conventions, Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and national legislation relating to maritime safety with respect to navigation and maritime security, SAMSA is mandated to protect the marine environment and to protect and promote South Africa’s maritime interests. 


This includes:

  • Implementing systems for maritime surveillance, the identification, monitoring and tracking of vessels within South African territorial waters, and all the way to Antarctica.

  • Maintaining maritime domain awareness (MDA) with regard to South Africa’s extended maritime area.

  • Communicating with vessel traffic when necessary.

  • Search and rescue (SAR) functions and responsibilities.

  • Identifying and responding to possible maritime incidents.

  • Monitoring coastal and offshore activities.

  • Cooperating with South African government departments with respect to maritime matters.

  • Profiling the activities undertaken to protect South Africa’s maritime interests.


Maritime Surveillance

Maritime surveillance equipment includes:

  • A system for the long-range identification and tracking of ships (LRIT).

  • An automatic identification system (AIS) for both land-based and satellite detection.

  • Maritime radio communication systems (terrestrial and satellite).

  • A vessel-monitoring system (VMS).



Response includes the following:

  • Maritime communications and navigation warnings.

  • An emergency response tug on standby to respond to vessels in difficulty, as well as to prevent pollution or grounding.

  • Coordinating the response to oil pollution at sea with relevant national and local response agencies.

  • Cooperation with other organs of state with respect to maritime incidents.


Industry and Excellence

The Centre for Maritime Industry Development is responsible for the advancement (development) of the maritime economy, including the socioeconomic interests of the maritime sector. Such responsibility includes the creation of a maritime industry cluster to be used as a key vehicle in attaining the goal of positioning South Africa as an international maritime centre. Some of the Centre’s areas of business include, but are not limited to: cluster development, small, medium and micro enterprise (SMME) or black economic empowerment (BEE) development, as well as research and economic analysis.



Skills Development: The South African Dedicated Training Ship

SAMSA’s training vessel, the SA Agulhas, is intended to reignite the minds of decision makers about the value of the maritime sector by using this asset to train young people and develop an authentic South African maritime skills development programme that produces results that will accelerate the creation of seafaring work opportunities. The SA Agulhas’s first voyage was to the Antarctic as part of a contract that SAMSA secured with the Commonwealth to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.


On its maiden journey as a training vessel, the SA Agulhas, carrying the Coldest Journey expedition (Ice Team) and manned by African marine trainee cadets, arrived in Antarctica and docked alongside the ice. The offloading started, with teams going ashore in a steel ‘man-basket’, and Caterpillar spares, fuel drums and bladders (flubbers) being offloaded. It was a remarkable journey. The SAMSA maritime cadets are receiving their maritime training in deck and engineering fields, including navigation and other disciplines.


Commander Mokhele says that South Africa’s maritime industry alone has the potential to provide 400 000 jobs, with 45 000 to 50 000 seafarers alone being employed. However, production capacity and the supply side are currently not sufficient to support this. By way of comparison, India has 78 000 seafarers at sea, and China has 650 000 participants, compared with South Africa’s 2 000. “We are still in the development period of this industry and not yet quite in the harvesting period. In order to grow and develop, South Africa’s maritime industry needs to make considerable investments in human capacity development, that is, in the cultivation of skills and the development of capabilities,” he states.


South Africa could start by developing a maritime training institute, because there is a gap in educating a leader group. Many new entrants to the industry hit a glass ceiling, as they lack project management, financial management and other management skills; hence training and skills-development programmes aimed at cultivating these and other necessary leadership skills are required. Some tertiary institutions are currently in partnership with SAMSA in order to address this need. The provision of targeted technical training means South Africa needs to offer the requisite training at different levels of education so as to provide the necessary facilities, disciplines and degrees. Training and academic institutions need to take this on board, in conjunction with the previously mentioned need to expand the capacity of the sector. Through integration of training and upskilling across the region, SAMSA will leverage its relationships with other African nations, and this “will allow us to develop targeted training capabilities across the region, spreading the cost and developing regional centres of excellence”. Lastly, among a host of these interventions will be the expediting of transformation in the sector. “There is a lack of transformation in the industry that needs to be addressed. For example, there is only one female stevedore company in the entire industry. Initiatives to increase female participation need to be identified and undertaken,” he concludes.





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