South Africa’s maritime sector cruises the high seas of opportunity

SAMSA will continue to fulfil its mandate to grow the maritime industry regardless of whether or not there is a phase two of Operation Phakisa


As South Africa seeks opportunities to create jobs and generate economic growth, increasing attention is being paid to the emerging ocean economy. Leadership spoke to Sizwe Nkukwana, Programme Manager for Operation Phakisa at the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), to find out more about the exciting possibilities our maritime future holds.

After graduating from Rhodes University with a degree in economics and social science, Nkukwana started his career at Ernst & Young. After a stint at PwC he joined SAMSA as a Corporate Performance Manager in the strategy unit in August 2013. In June, he was transferred to work under the project manager for Operation Phakisa, coordinating all the different project initiatives within SAMSA.

“It’s largely an industry development role where we focus on building the ship registry, doing ship repair and maintenance for South African companies, anchoring and offshore bunkering.

“Under Operation Phakisa we have also started a Maritime Youth Development Programme (MYDP) aimed at providing employment for rural, coastal and informal settlement youth in partnership with Harambee. The programme sponsor is usually the Office of the Premier in a province or the Mayor of a City,” says Nkukwana.

“When we started the Maritime Youth Development Programme we asked our partners to imagine taking a child from Crossroads or Diepsloot, getting them trained and certified, and getting them work-ready (in partnership with Harambee) then going to the cruise liners and striking a deal to place all these youngsters,” says Nkukwana.

“Imagine what it would do for that individual. They would be able to travel and see the world instead of being confined to the area where they grew up, making friends in different places with people from different cultures and speaking different languages.

“Here our youth are fighting for R3 000, R4 000, R6 000 a month, whereas in the cruise industry you can secure an entry-level job at US$1 000 dollars a month, about R15 000. With the cost of about R60 000 to get them ready, it would take them four months to repay the country. Every R1 earned supports ten people in certain income levels. Imagine how the remittances they send back would change their families’ lives.

“That would then spill over into the community—they would become role models as people who have made the most of the opportunities they’ve been given and changed their lives. So you can transform communities through a programme like ours because of the exposure that you give to one person.”

Since inception the MYDP has enjoyed a better than 90% retention rate. People are getting into second contracts and some are getting into their third.

“This is testament to the great job being done by our partner, Harambee, in preparing our candidates for life at sea, and we are hoping to grow it further,” says Nkukwana.

“On the demand side, which is cruise liner placements, we’ve got an uptake agreement for a thousand per year going forward with MSC alone. MSC is the third or fourth largest cruise liner in the world.

“Carnival Corporation is also coming to South Africa, starting in November when the cruise season begins, so we are hoping to grow the number of people that can be placed beyond the thousand that we have already banked to maybe five thousand a year.”

The original term of Operation Phakisa is drawing to a close, but SAMSA will continue to fulfil its mandate to grow the maritime industry regardless of whether or not there is a phase two.

One of the major projects of Operation Phakisa is the fishing vessel recap, a bid to grow the boat manufacturing space through a systematic replacement of the current ageing South African fishing fleet.

“The fishing vessel recap is a project to replace some 1400 very old vessels in the market. South Africa doesn’t have the capacity to replace those all at once, so it will be a ten- to fifteen-year project.”

South Africa has barely scratched the surface of the potential of the ocean economy.

“From a government perspective, there’s an initiative by the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) called the One Stop Shop, to encourage investors to come to South Africa and overcome all the red tape. We need to develop more of these in order to ease the regulatory burden on potential investors and businesses.” Government just needs to do a lot more around easing the regulatory environment, and give regulatory certainty in some areas to attract potential entrants into the market. They also need to start developing more programmes of action.

Private sector companies need to organise their capabilities so that we in the public sector know to go out and market with our counterparts around the world. Shipping lines want to know what South Africa has to offer from an infrastructure point of view so they can bring their vessels here for repair, and they also want assurances of our capability. We have to deliver as competitively as in other places.

“We in the MYDP would like to see more ships coming to South Africa because then they would become aware of the opportunities that South Africa has to offer. South Africans have a reputation of being hard workers, so cruise liners would be very keen to have us working for them.

Currently the cruise industry employs about 500 000 people, and all the cruise liners have decided that they want to double their fleet over the next ten years, which means that potentially 500 000 jobs could be available.

“That’s why MSC was quite confident to sign an undertaking to absorb 1 000 youngsters from South Africa over the next ten years.”

The Maritime Youth Development Programme also ties in with tourism and the promotion of women in the maritime sector.

Nkukwana’s passion for the industry is derived from its power to transform.

“The maritime sector is relatively new, but very important to South Africa. It has always been the preserve of well-established international companies, so there are lots of opportunities to create enterprises and grow the South African economy.”

For Nkukwana, the MYDP has the potential to be a job incubator for professions that are not necessarily tied to working on ships. “A young journalist could literally be sitting there every day producing a daily newsletter about what is going on in the cruise liners of the world, and after two or three years they’ve got solid work experience in journalism. The same goes for comedians, auctioneers, salespeople—the cruise liner sector can offer opportunities to a multitude of people.”

Another initiative SAMSA is working on in the cruise space is to create conferences and expos for the cruise industry around the world in order for all the cruise people to integrate and build their networks.

“We will have our first Seatrade Forum here in South Africa in February 2022, either in Cape Town or Durban. It will enable us to bring the cruise sector into focus, not only from a tourism and development point of view but also from a service point of view. As South Africa grows as a cruise destination, more cruise liners are going to come here and more work will then emanate for the sector, which is very important from an MYDP perspective.” 

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