Using the Oceans to Improve the Lives of People


Wrapping up the African Maritime Domain in Port Elizabeth last week, maritime leaders reaffirmed their commitment towards Africa’s renaissance and the continent playing a dominant role in the multibillion dollar global maritime sector.

The prospect of a sustainable maritime future in the continent of Africa took a leap forward as government, private sector and educational institutions agreed on one thing.

“Maritime is the cornerstone for development in Africa.”

As the custodian for South Africa’s maritime industry and interests, the South African Maritime Safety Authority, who played a crucial role in the AMDC brought together maritime leaders discussing how government initiative,  Operation Phakisa could be enhanced within the maritime and ocean sector.

The end of the conference saw the launch of the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), an entity that will provide for multi-disciplinary marine research, education and training.

Founded as an initiative of SAMSA, in partnership with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), the institute will promote and coordinate maritime education, skills development and research to support South Africa in harnessing the potential of its mostly untapped maritime resources.

Government’s recent launch of the Operation Phakisa Ocean Labs initiative to develop the plans required to unlock the economic potential of the country’s oceans – which it is estimated could contribute R177-billion to GDP and create a million jobs by 2033 – has placed the maritime economy firmly on the national socio-economic development agenda.

Speaking at the launch of SAIMI, SAMSA Chief Executive Tsietsi Mokhele said: “‘The blue economy and the support that SAIMI is expected to provide is a very important block in building towards the creation of a new Africa. “

What this would produce was an Africa that has “appropriated its assets, comfortable in waters as it would be on land, and free like all other nations to use the oceans to improve the lives of her people”.

“Freedom has to put more on the table than when we were not free. It must provide our children with facilities to enjoy themselves. It has to translate into free trading nations and take its own share of what is beneficial from the global maritime sector,” said Mokhele.

“We are also making political statements that the oceans also belong to us as Africans. Throughout history, we were out there at sea. It just cannot be that we are nations confined to land and contributing just over 1.5% of the global seafarer supply.

“SAIMI is an embodiment of a vision of African people who are taking risks like other people. It was always going to be a question, how can islanders not be obsessed about the oceans that surround them” said Mokhele.

“The seas are choppy, the voyage is going to be long, but we cannot remain at shore,” he added.

The Vice Chancellor of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Professor Derrick Swartz said the launch of the institute was an “important day for us”.

“It is a new idea; any new idea that comes in the human horizon brings about a sense of hope as much as it does a sense of uncertainty and fear of the unknown,” said Swartz.

‘Though Ancient voyagers were often swept away to terrains unbeknown to and unplanned by them, they discovered new lands and new treasures.’

“This [launch] gives us a great opportunity to build a new economy and expand the frontiers of the existing economic space into the blue economy as well. I am excited about the future.”

He said the launch of SAIMI would stimulate innovations across the continent. New institutional capabilities, technological innovations and resource developments are helping us to gain greater levels of efficiency and growth.

“We will endow the maritime campus with the right facilities to enable the private sector to thrive. At the centre of what we want to do is to stimulate industry so [the institute] must be led by the industry. In this way we will know the research needs of the private sector,” he said.

We will enjoy the support of our colleagues across the continent and abroad to achieve this objective. This is a national entity but with an international focus,” said Swartz.

He said the institute would help build new capabilities that do not exist in the maritime sector.

Swartz thanked SAMSA for its visionary leadership in leading the creation of the institute saying it was the organisation that brought this idea after an hour meeting between him and Mokhele.

“There was an immediate sense of chemistry in our world views. I want to thank Commander Mokhele for his vision and his sense of passion and drive for taking this process forward”.

The chairperson of Council at NMMU Judge Ronnie Pillay said the NMMU wanted this project [the institute] and we’ll do our best to make sure it succeeds, working with stakeholders referred to by SAMSA.

Pillay was heartened at how the informal fishing industry in South Africa, particularly in the Eastern Cape was affected negatively by the formalisation of the sector through licensing.

“Poor people in Port Elizabeth from Motherwell to New Brighton and the Northern Areas used to fish [for a living] but for some reason fishing rights were given to big business [and the subsistence fishing sector was effectively destroyed].

“In Durban, people used to live off the sardines and there are still a lot of people in this country who live off fishing,” said Pillay.

The institute has received a major boost from the global ship power company, Wärtsilä. Vice-President of the company Aaron Bresnahan, handed over a R6.2-million ship engine to the institute.

He said it was the 25th anniversary of his first sail to South Africa. He said the donation signified the importance Wärtsilä placed on developing young talent from the continent and securing a skills base for the industry in the future. “I have never forgotten my time at sea and the empowerment I got through my studies. So it is a great honour for me to be hear and represent my company in making this humble donation,” said Bresnahan.

Although based at NMMU, SAIMI is positioned as an independent organisation whose mandate is bigger than the university.