BEE shipping stirs up SA seas

6 August 2004

A new black-owned shipping line, owned for the most part by former Robben Island inmates, is making waves in South Africa’s largely foreign-dominated maritime industry.

South Africa ranks among the world’s top 12 maritime trading nations, commanding 6% of the world’s sea trade. According to Business Day, almost half of the country’s exports and imports come and go by sea.

Transport Minister Jeff Radebe recently predicted that container traffic through South African ports would double “and double again” by 2020 – something that industry experts suggest could be realised even sooner than expected.

Yet much of the shipping industry is foreign-owned – including former national carrier Safmarine, which was bought by Danish group AP Moller-Maersk in 1999. According to Business Day, Grindrod’s tanker service is South African-owned, but the group’s coastal service, Unifeeder, is also linked to AP Moller-Maersk.

Now the South African Liner Container Services (Salcs) is making waves in the industry. Salcs, launched at the beginning of 2004, operates a monthly service, docking at Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Felixstowe, Bremerhaven and Antwerp.

The company aims to net US$48-million (or 10%) a year of the lucrative South Africa-Europe liner business within 18 months, Business Day reports.

Salcs is jointly owned by Autshumatu Investments (40%), a group of former Robben Island inmates who also operate the ferry between Robben Island and Cape Town; Makana Investment (20%), also former Robben Islanders; and MRX 39 Investment Holdings (20%). The Stratford Family Trust and port supply company Vonden Investments each hold 10%.

The group is expected to focus on the motor vehicle, mining and chemical industries.

Salcs says its black empowerment rating is a competitive advantage for users of its services – and can be reflected on their empowerment scorecards.

The maritime industry was the first to adopt an empowerment strategy in the transport sector. According to the draft strategy, the sector aims to ensure at least 25.1% black ownership by 2009. Foreign firms with local representation are also expected to implement empowerment strategies.

Major shipping lanes pass along the South African coastline in the south Atlantic and Indian oceans, through the country’s seven commercial ports, which form by far the largest, best equipped and most efficient network on the African continent.

The National Ports Authority, a division of Transnet, is the largest port authority in greater southern Africa, controlling seven of the 16 biggest ports in the region: Richards Bay, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay, Cape Town and Saldanha.

These ports are not only conduits for trade between South Africa and her partners in the Southern African Customs Union and Southern African Development Community, but also function as hubs for traffic emanating from, and destined for, Europe, Asia, the Americas and the east and west coasts of Africa.

South African ports handle an average of 13 000 vessels carrying 500 million tons of cargo a year, and major upgrades are under way to increase the country’s handling capacity further to absorb the rapid increase in commercial traffic. reporter