Ports & Ships Maritime News

Sep 22, 2009
Author: Terry Hutson

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  • First View – SHASA

  • First container ship for Ngqura lines up for next Wednesday

  • East London told its future as a port city lies in its own hands

  • Two Soviet Antarctic bases and an ice-bound supply ship – in three days

  • Altech Netstar to the NSRI’s rescue with radio equipment

  • TPT takes delivery of multimillion rand consignment of cargo handling equipment

  • News clips – Keeping it brief



    First View – SHASA

    The first of three 70t bollard pull Voith Schneider propelled tugs being built at Southern African Shipyards in Durban, Hull no.T306 has been named SHASA and was launched on Sunday, 20 September in Durban harbour. Once her fitting out is complete the tug will enter service at the new port of Ngqura. A further four tugs are on order from the yard. Picture by Jurgen Cobarg

    First container ship for Ngqura lines up for next Wednesday

    Ngqura port, ready for action – picture by Terry Hutson

    After 12 years in the planning and having cost R10 Billion to build, the Eastern Cape port of Ngqura opens next week with the arrival of the first container ship to work cargo.

    The date for this auspicious occasion is set at next Wednesday 30 September, although you might be forgiven had this little fact slipped by unnoticed, as apparently no fanfare or official welcome is planned for the first vessel whatsoever.

    This might seem strange considering the amount of controversy that the port has attracted since its inception in 1997 and one could have excused Transnet for deciding to throw a party as if to say ‘there, we told you so’ to all those who said it would never be built.

    It appears likely however that an official opening will be staged later in October or November, on a date to suit the politicians and other dignitaries who will attend and make speeches and cut ribbons and declare the port officially open. In the meantime Ngqura should by then have handled a number of container ships as a foretaste of what is to come.

    We do not have as yet have the name of the first container ship due in the port but hope to be able to reveal this ahead of the event. PORTS & SHIPS will be including the new port among our daily updates of Ships in Port and Ships Due in Port as we do with every other port in South Africa and those in Namibia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Mauritius.

    East London told its future as a port city lies in its own hands

    East London's grain terminal needs R500m to refurbish.  Picture TPT

    Report by K Eldritch

    East London, 18 September 2009 - East London business leaders have again been told that the future of the port of East London lies in their hands.

    At the annual Business to Business breakfast held in the Eastern Cape port city last week, Tau Morwe, chief executive of Transnet Port Terminal confirmed that Transnet has spent nothing on further developing the port during the past financial year. In total Transnet spent R3.2 Billion during the year on port infrastructure, but nothing was allocated to East London.

    This is not the first time that East London has been overlooked and told that Transnet sees little economic value in the Eastern Cape port.

    Morwe raised worrying questions about the viability of the port’s much vaunted car terminal, developed largely to cater for the adjacent Mercedes Benz South Africa motor assembly plant. With the current economic downturn the number of Mercedes vehicles being manufactured for export or local sale has decreased sharply and the port’s main source of shipping has all but dried up.

    Much of the container traffic is for the local motor industry and has similarly been affected.

    According to Morwe the intention had been to expand the car terminal including extending the number of berths available for car carriers but this has since been placed on hold.

    The port’s other ‘main attraction’, the grain elevator and terminal is now past its operational ‘sell by’ date and Morwe said it requires at least R500 million to be spent on it for renovation purposes, but current grain volumes make such an investment not viable. The elevator has a designed capacity of four million tonnes but currently handles around 420,000 tons annually. Morwe said it required at least 600,000 tonnes annually to make any investment worthwhile.

    He said it was up to East London businessmen and politicians to make the difference if they wanted the port to survive, “but you must drag your politicians kicking and screaming to the table to argue your case,” he said.

    In the financial year ended 31 March 2009 the port of East London handled a total of 2.683 million tonnes of cargo, including all products. Included in these volumes was a total of 55,413 TEUs handled at the port’s multi-purpose terminal where East London lacks proper container handling facilities.

    Two Soviet Antarctic bases and an ice-bound supply ship – in three days

    By Ian Hunter (SA Weather Services)

    November 1991

    One of the potential plusses of being a meteorologist is the opportunity to visit unusual places. I have had the good fortune to visit various islands around our coast – Jutten, Dassen, Seal, Dyer. And some rather outlandish places well beyond our borders : Reykjavik, Moroni, Havana…

    But the most memorable trip of all was to a place called Molodezhnaja.

    “Why don’t you come with us this time”, said Vasily. They had first visited Cape Town the previous August. I had arrived at work to find a very large, unusual-looking cargo plane on the apron. On the tail a red flag with yellow hammer, sickle and star - quite an unusual sight for Cape Town in those times!

    The polar relief vessel designated to swop teams at the Soviet Antarctic base of Molodezhnaja (longitude 46°E) had had a fire on board and the MIKHAIL SOMOV had been sent in – in June ! (the pack ice is already expanding rapidly by April). By July she was completely beset, some 60km to the north of the base. The new team were ferried across by helicopter, but now the base had two teams and was overloaded. The old team would have to be flown out – no mean feat in the middle of an Antarctic winter. And the flight crew were looking for forecasts…

    The rescue mission began on 21 August 1991 and a week later they arrived back in Cape Town with almost 200 people packed like sardines into the cargo bay. Fortunately the ECMWF global NWP model had done a sterling job of identifying the weather windows.


    Now the people from the Soviet Department of Arctic and Antarctic Affairs were back in Cape Town. It was November, they wanted to take cargo down to two bases and do a parachute drop on a third (Vostok – 3 500m asl). As in August, guidance products were limited : relatively coarse versions of the UKMO model and ECMWF, with only a limited set of parameters and levels for the latter. One of the biggest challenges is the prediction of the katabatic wind component, which may reach over 150 km/ hr where there is a steep slope down to the coast - and topographical channeling.

    The 1st weather window came and went – it seems our visitors were enjoying themselves too much in the Fairest Cape. Eventually on 5 November we took off, only to find ourselves soon flying in big circles over False Bay. It took three hours to burn up sufficient fuel to make the ‘emergency’ landing. Back on the ground one of the technicians tinkered with something on the outer starboard engine and we were off again. After six hours we are nearing the Antarctic coast, the few portholes crowded out with eager eyes. Have to make another plan. Hurrah ! The navigator has fallen asleep at his post (below the cockpit – see photo). The perfect place to witness the landing. Ground not at all clear but the pilot puts us down like a baby, applying the brakes very gently on a long runway of compacted snow.

    We had landed at 3am, sun well above the horizon. The base is 30km away, a bumpy ride in a tracked military troop carrier. A hearty breakfast - no frills. When you’ve finished your porridge you lick your spoon and dunk it in the jam to spread on your bread. No milk. No butter. Just a fine bunch of cheerful fellows who might as well be speaking Martian.

    I am ferried back to the landing strip and we take off for Novolazarevskaja, some 1,500 km to the west. There we meet West German, Russian and Indian scientists from other nearby bases. The Indians were all in army uniform but they quickly lost their military composure when I informed them that South Africa and India were playing a test match at that very moment. One went off and got a plank of wood and we compacted balls of snow. And played cricket under the Aeroflot Ilyushin 76MD.

    The following day back at ‘Molo’ I did the rounds of the meteorological personnel (most of whom could fortunately speak a little English). The base was made up of many separate units, each erected on stilts fixed into the bedrock. The forecast office, instrumentation section and aerology were all in separate offices. PC’s were conspicuous by their absence, the only computer being a modest Russian-made mainframe. Every week a rocket was launched to make measurements of the upper atmosphere. In stark contrast, all GTS data was supplied by a rather unreliable HF link from Moscow - satcomms were regarded as being too expensive.

    After over a day on base I decided it was high time I found out where the showers were located. As I was approaching the building pointed out to me, the door was suddenly thrown open and a naked figure came running down the stairs. Jumped into the snow and rolled around for several minutes. Then rushed back up the stairs, slamming the door behind him. What a strange ritual awaited me behind that door !

    Sit in the sauna wacking yourself with some ‘special’ bush until it becomes unbearable (the heat not the beating). Then out into the snow. Well, not quite naked - you have to have something on your feet or they’ll stick to the metal stairs. What a relief to roll in the snow! But then it’s back up the stairs and into the sauna.

    AT LAST the cycle ends. Then the vodka comes out, with endless unintelligible toasts. Fortunately for me the vodka looks like water, of which there is also a good supply...

    The Mikhail Somov is trapped some 65 km from the base. In the past 3 months she has drifted NNW with the pack ice. I am taken out in a Soviet MEE 1420 helicopter, to meet the meteorological personnel. Two helicopters stowed on the deck are almost totally covered in snow. When the pilot announces that its time to go back he gets an angry response, one of the meteorologists eventually making me aware of plans for a party. They proudly produce several bottles of KWV brandy (presumably acquired when they passed through Cape Town). I’m pretty much a teetotaler, to me it tasted like engine oil (not that I’ve tasted engine oil). It was all very interesting but I was pleased to get away.

    Eventually after three days we take off for Cape Town. In an area which can accommodate a 40 ton T-72 tank there are relatively few of us on the return flight. A Russian chap is bringing a dog with him. The latter, having been born on the base, was very reluctant to place his paws on the grass when we landed in Cape Town.


    The one scene associated with this whole saga, which I’m sure will still be clearly embedded in the minds of the staff of the erstwhile Maritime Weather Office :

    Following the initial rescue flight in August, two ships left Cape Town on the 26th to take the old team back to friends and family (they had been away from home for well over 18 months). The one vessel was the PROFESSOR VIESE which had been used for the weather briefings, the other the recently-arrived, much larger AKADEMIK FEDEROV. They slipped their moorings well after midnight on a quiet winter’s night in Table Bay. Then the crews lined the railings and started to sing.

    Strong sonorous voices rising out of the stillness - The Song of the Volga Boatmen.
    Then further off, exiting Duncan Dock : “Do svidanya, Cape Town !” (Goodbye/ God be with you)

    Altech Netstar to the NSRI’s rescue with radio equipment

    NSRI rescue craft in Cape Town

    “One of our greatest threats at sea is a radio shadow,” says NSRI CEO Ian Wienburg.

    “Rescue boats launch in the worst kind of weather and they check in with the radio control room at the rescue base every 20 minutes. But, all along our coastline, there are radio shadows where we are unable to establish communications. During these times our boats are at sea on a wing and a prayer.

    “Cellphone coverage is also sporadic at sea and, without any means to communicate with our crews, we are very vulnerable.

    “Thanks to a new partnership with Altech Netstar, all of our deep sea rescue boats will now be fitted with a special tracking device. We will receive automatic updates on each boats position. When there is no GSM signal the tracking device will switch to satellite communications.

    “Our volunteers risk their lives to ensure your safety at sea and now Altech Netstar will contribute towards our safety at sea.”

    Altech Netstar says it is proud to announce the sponsorship of 52 advanced tracking systems for the NSRI's rescue craft fleet along the South African coastline.

    These advanced tracking systems were specifically designed by Altech Netstar to support the NSRI volunteers. When the NSRI needs to know the exact position of their rescue craft these systems provide positioning using GPS (Global Positioning Systems) technology. The systems have a dual communication platform. When the rescue craft are within the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) coverage of the immediate coastline then the information is transmitted back to the NSRI base by GSM communication. However when the rescue craft are beyond this coverage area then the positioning information is transmitted back to the NSRI base using satellite communication.

    Altech Netstar Fleet Solutions developed this powerful hybrid system, consisting of waterproof units and a user interface with integrated ocean charts, over an extensive trial period with the NSRI. The testing involved course correlation and calculations, recording incident trips and generating reports of actual rescue missions carried out by crews, and proved that the system has great value.

    Joel Stransky, Managing Director of the Altech Netstar Group said, “We are thrilled to be partnering with the NSRI, providing a product and service that increases the safety of their volunteers who carry out vital rescue and support functions along our coastline with complete commitment and dedication. These are values we hold in high esteem at Altech Netstar and we are proud to have developed another world-class product and service to make this possible and we hope that in this way we can contribute to saving lives at sea.”

    TPT takes delivery of multimillion rand consignment of cargo handling equipment

    Representatives of MAFI and Transnet Port Terminals with some of the 59 MAFI trailers worth a total of R87 million

    Cape Town, 21 September 2009 – Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) achieved several milestones in its equipment replacement programme during September, with the handover of an R87 million consignment of hauler units destined for Cape Town and Durban, plus six new cranes for the Cape Town container terminal.

    Senior executives of German in-plant transportation systems manufacturer, MAFI, were in South Africa to hand over 16 of the 59 haulers in Cape Town. This was a follow-up order to the haulers supplied to the Port of Durban and Port Elizabeth in 2007 and 2008.

    In total, 53 of the new hauler units will operate at the Cape Town container and multipurpose terminals and six at the Durban multipurpose terminal. When used with the new cornerless bathtub trailers recently procured (see PORTS & SHIPS TPT backs local supplier for trailer design HERE), they will offer safer, faster handling and transportation of containers in the terminal yard.

    Logan Naidoo, General Manager: Capital Projects and Technology at Transnet Port Terminals, said the terminal’s R4.2 Billion expansion programme had taken a further leap forward with these deliveries.

    “The hauler contract is valued at approximately R87m. The next batch of 22 haulers will arrive by mid October 2009, and will replace the current old fleet.

    “To add to this, on Tuesday 8 September 2009 the third batch of rubber-tyred gantry cranes (RTG’s), numbers 9 to 12, arrived onboard the vessel MARIA GREEN and the following day two additional Liebherr ship-to-shore cranes arrived in components onboard the BELUGA LEGISLATION,” he said.

    This brings the total number of RTGs at the terminal to 12 out of a planned 32. Of the 12, four have been commissioned and commenced operating during the week ending Friday 18 September.

    There are now six ship-to-shore cranes out of a planned eight.

    The hefty investments into new cranes are part of the terminal’s five year programme to nearly double capacity from 740,000 TEUs to 1.4 million TEUs.

    The cranes will be assembled on-site over the next few months before commissioning and testing. 

    David Davids and Melvin Ruiters of TPT with the four newly commissioned RTG cranes at the Cape Town container terminal

    News clips – Keeping it brief

    Transnet Port Terminals has confirmed our report of last week announcing the resignation of TPT’s chief operating officer Solly Letsoalo and the appointment of his replacement in the person on Nosipho Damasane. Letsoalo has resigned to take up a position as managing director in the private sector. Don Maclean, Executive Commercial Manager will assume the role of acting GM Sales, Logistics and Commercial that was previously held by Ms Damasane. “Ms Damasane and Mr Maclean are well equipped to assume their new responsibilities and challenges, given their business experience and industry knowledge,” said TPT chief executive Tau Morwe.

    PetroSA, the country’s state-owned petroleum company is urging customers to make alternate arrangements during PetroSA’s planned maintenance shutdown from today (22 September) until 24 November 2009. The company says the shutdown is necessary for the continued safe operations in the Mossel Bay Gas-to-Liquids Refinery and the Offshore FA Platform. PetroSA has however made contingency plans for the availability of other products such as diesel and petrol for the Mossel Bay supply area. The three-yearly scheduled shutdown is expected to cost R495 million and involves a workforce of which 150 are resident in Mossel Bay.


    Welcome home! The salvage tug WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE (2,918-gt, built 1976), the sister tug of Cape Town-based SMIT AMANDLA (former John Ross) arrives in her previous homeport, Cape Town. The tug was arriving for repairs. Picture by Aad Noorland

    Another tug to arrive in Cape Town this week was the offshore supply tug HIGHLAND COURAGE (3,160-gt, built 2002), towing the oil rig PRIDE SOUTH PACIFIC to the Mother City for a maintenance refit. Picture by Aad Noorland

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