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The South African Maritime Safety Authority – protecting our oceans

16 July 2017
– 4 Minute Read


The South African Maritime Safety Authority (“SAMSA”) was established on 1 April 1998 in terms of the SAMSA Act 5 of 1998. The key mandate allocated to SAMSA in terms of the Act is to ensure safety of life and property at sea, prevent and combat pollution from ships in the marine environment and promote the Republic’s maritime interests. In addition, SAMSA is tasked with the administration of the Merchant Shipping (National Small Vessel Safety) Regulations and implementing and executing the Long-Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) of vessels along the South African coastline.

I recently had the opportunity to have a chat with Captain Saroor Ali (Regional Manager, Eastern Region), Kirsty Goodwin (Welfare, Health and Safety Officer) and Captain Thembela Taboshe, ship surveyor and one of three black females who made history by qualifying as a master mariner a few years ago. 

While the public generally only hear about SAMSA when there is a ship stranded on a beautiful beach, potentially endangering the environment, SAMSA is tasked with a plethora of duties that are perhaps not as well known or appreciated.  

The essential task of SAMSA is to ensure safety and in that respect, they need to carry out a port state control regime, flag state implementation, and inspections of target vessels who are identified as suspicious in terms of their age, flag state or past history. These vessels are inspected on a six monthly basis and fined or detained should they transgress any of the mandatory safety regulations. 

While SAMSA has often been accused of over – regulating the industry, Captain Ali, who spent 13 years at sea, insists that they do attempt to strike a balance and recognise that the shipping industry needs to keep moving.  Where detention can be avoided by the vessel arranging the necessary repair or addressing a directive at the next port, then that is the route taken. 

SAMSA is responsible for the issuing of various statutory certificates in terms of national regulations and international conventions and weighs in on legislation. Examples are the new legislation on ballast water management and container weight verification. They are also excited about the review of the Merchant Shipping Act which contains several outdated regulations. 

Part of SAMSA’s duties include the investigation of maritime accidents and incidents and to convene courts of marine enquiry. At times these courts are convened years after the incident occurred. These delays are attributed to the time taken to collate the evidence and at times, relevant software being unavailable to decode the data on the ship’s recording systems. It is acknowledged that the situation is not ideal.  There are a number of policy statements in the final version of the Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy which aim to address these issues.

Of course, when a casualty occurs, all focus is on that particular vessel and what is to be done to put it right.  Some of the casualties that Captain Ali has been involved include the MV “BBC China”, the MV “Smart”, the MV “Kianu Satu” and most recently the MV “Phoenix” which ran aground at Salt Rock. There is quite a network of different organisations involved in a casualty as well as daily joint operation committee meetings with all involved which can include KZN Wildlife, Department of Environment and Agriculture and the relevant port authority.

Ms Goodwin was recently responsible for conducting workshops across the country on the container weight verification requirements as mandated by SOLAS (The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea). The need for accurate weight declarations is a critical safety issue. Providing accurate information allows the master of a vessel to plan ship loading, so that the ship is stable, hull strength and stack weights are not exceeded and lashing arrangements are effective. Incorrectly declared weights can result in container collapse, personal injury and damage to equipment.

Captain Ali says that he often has to decline requests from vessels to discharge their waste on our shores. Although there are on – shore reception facilities, these often cannot cope. And there have been several incidents of vessels flouting MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) regulations. 

And if all of that was not enough to deal with, SAMSA is also tasked with the approval of the syllabus for the Durban University of Technology and Cape Province University of Technology and to attend to the certification of seafarers.

Above all, SAMSA looks after what is referred to as our 10th province and the source of our blue economy. Without their invaluable expertise and oversight, this would be a diminishing resource.

Article by: Anisa Govender, senior associate in our Shipping Practice.

*This article first appeared in the Sunday Tribune.