June 25 marks the acknowledgement and remembrance of the sacrifice seafarers have made over the centuries, in ensuring that the world functions swiftly through their efforts.
The Department of Transport (DOT), in partnership with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) hosted the commemorative DOTS events in the form of roundtable discussions involving seafarers and maritime industry leaders.
DOTS is an International Maritime Organization (IMO) calendar event that is being marked globally by all maritime nations.
Critical issues facing the seafarers’ day to day implementation of their duties, were raised during robust question and answer sessions.
DOT and SAMSA, as custodians of the South Africa seafarers’ registry, reiterated that seafarers’ matters was every ones’ business. To this end the DOTS theme for this year, “Seafarer’s Wellbeing” entrenched government’s commitment in protecting the men and women who risk their lives in order to ensure goods travel freely, and daily living needs transported.
Dr Bonginkosi Nzimande, Minister of Transport, said in a statement: “As vital as the industry is to the world and its people, equally important is the work of the brave seafarers who perform one of the most difficult jobs in the world.”
Nzimande said had it not been for seafarers, the global trade would come to a standstill.
During the roundtable sessions, delegates heard the DOT had committed to enhancing the wellbeing of seafarers by proposing to add specialised health services in vessels.
Dumisani Ntuli, head of Maritime Transport in DOT, said through the assistance of the Department of Health, the health services onboard would be beefed-up.
“We are determined to roll out services to help elevate the health status of the seafarers, while working at sea.
“Psychological, medical and physiological services will help ease the burden faced by seafarers, while removed from land services. Health professionals will soon be travelling with seafarers,” said Ntuli.
“As a country, in comparison to other maritime nations, we have a low number of seafarers. To catapult the growth of the country’s maritime industry, we need more youth to consider the maritime industry in choosing their preferred career paths.
“By ensuring the wellbeing of our current seafarers, we understand that we may be able to inspire the younger generations to enter the maritime industry.”
Sobantu Tilayi, acting Chief Operating Officer for SAMSA reiterated the authority’s openness to seafarers and informed those gathered that the overall wellbeing of seafarers was their priority.
Seafarers had to prepare themselves for the challenges associated with working in a diverse and multi-cultural environment, he said.
Some seafarers gathered in Durban asserted that one of the challenges they faced at sea was being perceived as ill-disciplined when they raised labour-related issues with their superiors on-board.
Tilayi said: “It is important for our seafarers to understand that it is the Merchant Shipping Act, rather than the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which governs the labour rights of seafarers.”
He encouraged seafarers to view the maritime industry in its global context, and consider the norms and standards established in the companies in which they worked.
“We encourage all our seafarers to understand the complexities of the industry they serve,” Tilayi said.
DOT and SAMSA said the maritime industry had the potential to address the high unemployment rate, and a plan of action was necessary to include the following interventions:
- Adopt South African models and knowledge to solve the country’s unemployment rate.
- Develop and own a South African shipping fleet for economic growth.
- Develop a seafarers’ culture and create employment opportunities for qualified South African seafarers.
- Develop a career path plan.
- Build the fishing industry to accommodate SA seafarers.
- Strengthen the capacity of the SA Agulhas to use it as a training vessel for South African seafarers.
- Integrate technological advancements in the industry.
Ntuli pointed out that in previous years South Africa owned the Unicorn and Safmarine Shipping lines, which also traded in international waters and South African coastal shores. As a result, South Africa’s maritime sector was booming.
With the cessation of these vessels South Africa’s maritime sector was negatively impacted.
Ntuli added that South Africa needed to develop and grow its shipping lines on its coastal highway to recover its previous prestige.
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