Ports & Ships Maritime News

June 1, 2010
Author: Terry Hutson


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  • First View – AUTUMN WAVE

  • 100 years ago.... the birth of a giant transport system

  • Passenger rail strike: Satawu consulting members over Prasa offer

  • Chinese firms urged to invest in Africa

  • Tribute to the late Peter Melliar

  • Trade News: marine diamonds remain forever

  • Van Oord wins contract to dredge Beira port

  • Broken floating dock to find rest and repair in Cape Town

  • Pic of the day – CRANE


    First View – AUTUMN WAVE

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    NYKCool’s Croatian-owned reefer vessel AUTUMN WAVE(13,077-gt, built 1993) seen sailing from Cape Town earlier in May. Picture by Ian Shiffman

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    100 years ago.... the birth of a giant transport system

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    Picture by Steve McCurrach

    Even if it should be deemed inappropriate in some quarters, it would be amiss if we failed to acknowledge an eventful centenary that has just passed by unnoticed. Yesterday, 31 May 2010 was the 100th Anniversary of the founding of Transnet - then known as the South African Railways & Harbours.

    Coincidentally, 150 years ago in June 1860, the first railway in southern Africa came into operation. This was a short operation between the town centre of Durban and the Point docks and after making its first trial run to the Point on 23 June the train returned triumphantly with several wagons of general cargo. A few days later, on 26 June 1860 railways in South Africa were inaugurated officially. But that’s another story...

    Railway and harbour development in South Africa began in a competitive manner, in particular with the respective railway companies racing for the prize of being first to reach the mining and industrial centre of Johannesburg. Three railways competed for the prize, not on equal terms let it be said, south from the Cape, southeast from Natal and due east from the then Portuguese East Africa. Political inclinations even then determined which railway would ‘win’ the race although the prize was always going to be determined later by market forces, with Durban and Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) gaining the ultimate ascendency.

    Meanwhile the harbours of the Eastern and Western Cape, and that of Durban in the Colony of Natal continued to be operated by their respective government appointed bodies until at the end of May in 1910, the workings of the National Convention succeeded in bringing together not only the diverse political forces of the respective regions, but also the merging of the Cape Government Railways, the Natal Government Railways, and the Central South African Railways into one integrated unit, with Sir William Hoy, the former chief traffic manager of the CSAR as its first general manager.

    Joining them in this combined unified organisation were the new country’s major harbours and ports. The mandate given to the new organisation was that the railways, ports and harbours should be administered on business principles, although the nature of the transport market in South Africa at that time quickly determined that a ‘value of service’ regarding the charging of rates would apply, i.e. charging what the traffic could bear. This gave rise to a system of cross-subsidisation where high-value cargo was conveyed at rates well in excess of cost in order to subsidise the losses incurred on low-rated traffic carried below cost.

    This principle was applied to the ports as well and to some degree was to continue bedevilling transportation in this country until recent times

    Nevertheless, the combined forces brought together by way of a series of political compromises forged a dynamic and impressive transport giant that has played a significant role in truly ‘opening up’ and developing southern Africa. In its various forms and shapes, as the South African Railways & Harbours, the later South African Transport Services, and finally the Transnet of today, South Africa has reason to be proud of what has been accomplished by its people and organisation and without any doubt a fitting tribute ought to have been made. Perhaps in another hundred years as a nation we will have matured sufficiently to acknowledge such achievements without concern for origins.

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    Passenger rail strike: Satawu consulting members over Prasa offer

    Pretoria – Yesterday afternoon (Monday) tThe South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) was expecting to get a mandate from its members on whether to accept the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa)'s revised wage offer.

    "We are busy consolidating with our members," Satawu National Sector Coordinator Tinzi Lubabalo told BuaNews on Monday.

    This as Satawu's strike enters week three after workers downed tools. Prasa had revised its original offer up to 10 percent.

    Prasa acting CEO Tumisang Kgaboesele said that the agency had on Friday made an offer that involves workers at Shosholoza Meyl earning less than R60,000 per annum being paid an additional increase of 2.5 percent with effect as of 1 April 2010. Employees working at Metrorail earning less than R70,000 per annum being paid an additional 2 percent increase as of 1 April 2010.

    "All employees falling within the bargaining unit will be paid a once-off payment of R1000 in June .The above will benefit over 4800 employees at Prasa Rail Operations with the lowest paid employees being major beneficiaries," said Kgaboesele.

    Lubabalo said that the union would have come to a decision by 3pm yesterday afternoon.

    Prasa said that since the start of the strike incidences of intimidation and harassment were creating major problems.

    "Our operations in Gauteng and in KwaZulu-Natal remain the worst affected," said Kgaboesele.

    Thousands of commuters have been left stranded as a result of the strike. -BuaNews

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    Chinese firms urged to invest in Africa

    Beijing : Government officials on Friday urged more Chinese companies to invest in Africa's agricultural and manufacturing sectors to help the continent improve its economic structure.
    "There are very broad investment areas in Africa, Chinese companies can explore more opportunities in sectors like agriculture and manufacturing, apart from the current focus on infrastructure and energy resources," Lu Shaye, director-general of the Africa affairs department under Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Friday at a China-Africa forum in Beijing.
    He said that Africa's investment environment has greatly improved in recent years, and many nations have introduced preferential policies including lower tax rates to attract foreign capital.
    "The business potential in Africa is infinite," Lu said.
    Competition in energy resources investment is stiffer given rivalries from Western countries, and Chinese firms could shift their focus more to sectors like agricultural development that are much easier to operate and more in line with African countries' needs, said Liang Guining, deputy director of the research center for foreign investment under the Ministry of Commerce.
    According to Anthony Desir, a fund manager at the Strategic African Mineral Investment Fund, Africa is China's largest supplier of oil, accounting for 75 percent of China's total imports from the continent. Most products bought by Africa from China are for infrastructure needs.
    "Africa's vast amount of resources provides great conditions to grow crops in the continent," Yang Haomin, chairman of Shaanxi Nongken Group Ltd Co, which operates a 10,000-hectare agricultural project in Cameroon.
    According to Wei Jianguo, former vice-minister of commerce, there are over 2,180 Chinese firms investing in around 7,800 projects in Africa including power stations, harbours and airports, pushing China-Africa trade volume to an all-time high of USD 106.8 billion in 2008 from USD 10 billion in 2000.
    "Now is the best time for Chinese firms to invest in the continent as Africa needs to upgrade its economic structure," Wei said, adding that cooperation between China and Africa is mutually beneficial.
    The continent's economy grew more than 5 percent annually between 2004 and 2008, followed by a slower increase of 1.6 percent in 2009 due to the global financial crisis.
    The International Monetary Fund estimates that Africa's economy will grow by 4 percent in 2010 and 5.5 percent next year. (source: China Daily)

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    Tribute to the late Peter Melliar

    Peter Melliar well-known Cape Town maritime historian and ship photographer passed away on 26 May age 80.

    Peter's interest in ships and maritime matters started as a child when the family lived in Green Point overlooking the bay and Cape Town harbour. Peter would visit the harbour and wangle his way on various ships to obtain some postcards and other memorabilia.

    A good friend of Peter, Moffat Scott who passed away in 1959 encouraged Peter to take up ship photography as a hobby. In the 1950s Peter took his first pictures using black and white film. In the 1960s Peter changed to colour slides and built up a unique collection of ships visiting Cape Town and Durban.

    In 1977 Peter undertook the first of what was to be many photographic expeditions to Hong Kong and Singapore, followed by trips to the New Waterway in Holland.

    Peter kept scrap books and an immaculate record of all ships that called at Cape Town for the past 40+ years.

    Peter was a remarkable and unique person, always willing to assist anyone. He was well known with the Port Captains, Port Managers, Pilots and Berthing Staff in Cape Town harbour. Tug masters would oblige by keeping the ships clear so that Peter could obtain uncluttered ship pictures.

    The port of Cape Town is not the same with Peter no longer laying on his stomach or leaning over a bollard at the end of the piers, and his presence in Cape Town harbour will be sadly missed.

    Peter is survived by his Wife Hazel, daughters Lynn and Anne, son Ian and their families. – Ian Shiffman

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    Trade News: marine diamonds remain forever

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    The Debmarine diamond recovery vessel PEACE IN AFRICA. Picture by Ian Shiffman

    How the marine diamond mining scene off-shore Namibia and South Africa has changed in recent years. From the mid-80s to the mid-90s in the previous century a number of mining hopefuls created a mini ‘diamond rush’, mainly launched from Cape Town, who scrambled to get hold of the precious stones lying at the bottom of the sea.

    Names such as Namco, Ocean Diamond Mining, Benco, DFI and Transhex all tried their hands at great cost, at what promised to be lucrative takings. Most all of those efforts came to naught, their names now largely forgotten.

    But then there is De Beers Marine, also Cape Town-based, who is still persevering, making it the only survivor of the lot. And whilst it has had some set-backs, the future still looks promising.

    At the beginning of last year the De Beers diamond mining and exploration armada was laid up in Saldanha Bay for some two months to provide it with a production break and maintenance opportunity. The fleet included the Grand Banks, Debmar Atlantic, Debmar Pacific, Gariep, Ya Toivo, Coral Sea and the Peace in Africa.

    The break was in line with De Beers Consolidated’s statement at the time that it had evaluated the business environment and, considering the then world’s economic melt-down, an easing off in production was necessary.

    Diamond prices have recovered and the good news now is that the fleet is back in operation, but without the Grand Banks drill ship (it requires a capital injection) and the Ya Toivo, whose lease to De Beers came to an end.

    At one time the fleet harvested up to one million carats a year off the Namibian coast, with the new addition Peace in Africa mining 240,000 carats off South Africa on the Namaqualand coast.

    De Beers Marine general manager in Cape Town Burger Greeff says the reduction in the fleet at sea is in line with the current world economic situation, where the emphasis has moved from maximum production to rather focus on improved productivity; that is, improved profitability per carat produced.

    The target in this gradual recovery period is for 600,000 carats mined per annum off-shore of Namibia. The Peace in Africa has a target of 200,000 carats, but whereas it was originally intended for mining off-shore the SA coastline, it will spend half a year in Namibian waters for a trial in that geological terrain, where the gems are generally of higher value.

    It’s a leaner operation, but it’s paying for itself, with all indications that it will be around for a long time still to come; a bit like diamonds forever. - Cape Business News

    Footnote: No mention of offshore diamond recovery operations would be complete without a mention of the almost mythical Sammy Collins and his company, Marine Diamond Corporation (MDC), which pioneered the concept of marine mining off the Namibian coast (then known as South West Africa) in the 1960s. Despite setbacks including considerable losses which forced Collins to bring in De Beers as a partner and ultimate major shareholder, the idea was shown to be feasible and profitable, particularly after the introduction of more sophisticated equipment. The story of Collins, a controversial figure, remains to be told.

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    Van Oord wins contract to dredge Beira port

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    One of Van Oord’s split hopper dredgers, JAN LEEGHWATER (5,100-gt, built 2010) which passed through Cape Town recently. Picture by Aad Noorland

    Rotterdam, 31 May : Van Oord has been awarded a dredging and maintenance contract for the port of Beira, Mozambique, the Dutch company announced last week.

    The contract has been awarded by CFM (Portos e Caminhos de Ferro de Mozambique) and has a value of Euro 37 million. Work is already underway, having commenced in April and will take approximately 18 months to complete. A portion of the contract costs are being covered by the Dutch government.

    The contract involves dredging in the port of Beira where a total of eight million cubic metres of sand and clay will be removed, some of which will be used for land reclamation for the new coal terminal to cater for coal shipments from Motaize.

    Van Oord says it will deploy among others two medium sized trailing suction hopper dredgers.

    In co-operation with Van Oord’s subsidiary Wicks, the new site will be prepared for further development by using vertical drains.

    According to Mozambique sources little or no dredging has taken place in the port of Beira since the 1990s.

    Broken floating dock to find rest and repair in Cape Town

    After breaking in half in the Mozambique Channel, with one half ending up on a sandbank near Vilanculos, the front half of a floating dock being towed from the Far East will find a home in Cape Town harbour later today, weather and an oil rig permitting.

    Readers will recall the story of the mysterious floating dock found abandoned off the Mozambique coast, which local authorities thought might contain toxic substances, including radioactive material. See that report in PORTS & SHIPS dated 5 May HERE.

    Since then it transpired that the “toxic material” consisted of a number of containers loaded on one half of a floating dock that had somehow broken in half while being towed from Rotterdam behind the Svitzer tug ROTTERDAM. The half of the dock, now adrift, floated onto a sandbank near Vilanculos where salvage teams are endeavouring to refloat the ‘vessel’ while negotiating with Mozambican authorities. The ‘toxic’ materials turned out to be tools and ship repair equipment.

    The other half, still safely under tow, arrived off Durban where permission was sought to enter the port and proceed to the Bayhead where repairs could be carried out, including a possible reuniting with the missing half. Unfortunately Durban port authorities saw the floating dock as an unnecessary risk and permission was denied, forcing the Rotterdam and tow to continue south for Cape Town, where the vessel is currently, at time of writing, at sea near Table Bay.

    Durban’s loss, Cape Town’s gain

    Permission has been acquired to enter Cape Town harbour with this unusual tow, where no doubt repairs can also begin once a contract has been awarded. Providing the other half of the dock is recovered safely, it too will be towed to Cape Town for a rejoining ceremony – a probable lucrative contract for local ship repairers.

    According to the Port of Cape Town’s Acting Harbourmaster, Captain Eddie Bremner, the floating dock is due to enter port later today once the oil rig PRIDE SOUTH SEAS has docked – weather permitting.

    Pic of the day – CRANE

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    The hopper dredger CRANE 693-gt, built 1972, named for the bird species, not the equipment permanently on deck) which is owned and operated by Transnet Dredger Services, can be seen regularly at work in Durban harbour and occasionally at the other east coast ports. Picture by Trevor Jones


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