Essential services help keep international trade unlocked

Essential services help keep international trade unlocked

South African maritime companies apply for authorisation to continue operations during lockdown

SOUTH AFRICA: As South Africa nears the end of its first week of the nationwide lockdown aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19, a number of maritime-related as well as logistics companies have successfully applied to be classified as essential service providers in a bid to keep trade moving, ports open and international seafarers supplied with spares and supplies.

On an international level, decisions relating to restrictions being applied across the global port landscape prompted the International Ship Suppliers and Services Association (ISSA) to step in as an advocacy partner to ship suppliers who were being prevented from delivering to ships in some international ports.

Admirably, Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), was successfully lobbied by local service providers even before the lockdown to maintain Off Port Limit services to passing ships, but ISSA undertook to write to the heads of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) asking for ship suppliers around the world to be given essential worker status.

ISSA President Saeed Al Malik commented: “ISSA is speaking out on behalf of the world’s ship supply community to ensure that ships and their crews can receive vital supplies.  We are an important part of the supply chain and it is essential that we are able to bring much-needed food, medical supplies and spare parts to ships in order for world trade to continue. With crew changes almost impossible throughout most of the world at this present time, some seafarers have been onboard for many months and potentially face many more months at sea before they can return to their loved ones. It is important that they receive the equipment and stores they need.”

ISSA has issued guidance to its 1,600 members worldwide on how to keep safe when delivering supplies to vessels at port, but he acknowledged that the task facing suppliers was getting tougher.

Meanwhile the Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (PEMA) has praised the commitment of ports and terminals for playing their role in keeping global trade flowing.

“All around the world, ports and terminals continue to operate as normally as possible thanks to the dedication and commitment of staff, suppliers, producers and others,” says PEMA President and Chairman of the Board, Ottonel Popesco.

Maintenance and repairs

But it is not only the provision of actual supplies that needs to be addressed at this time. Maintenance and repair of critical equipment must necessarily remain a strong focus to ensure that on board systems do not fail.

Realising this, a number of technical service companies have proactively taken the step to register as essential service providers and have their team of technicians on standby ready to move into the field or on-board vessels where necessary.

“During this extremely challenging time our four business divisions are ready for all eventualities and challenges that might be required. All certified as essential services we have SGM for ships agency and vessel husbandry, Grindrod Logistics Africa for complete logistics, NovaMarine for survival and safety equipment and Hesper Engineering for engineering and maritime technology requirements,” says Andrew Sturrock, Chief Executive Officer of Sturrock Grindrod Maritime.

On the list of priorities is the country’s fishing fleet and Chevaan Nordien of Allweld reports that they currently have a team working on I&J vessels, while MRAD’s technicians are on standby for their fishing clients to ensure continued operation.

Other companies that have geared up and have their service technicians on standby and ready to assist include AMSOL, SMD, Atlantic Commercial Diesel Services, Peninsula Power Products, Anchora Enterprises, Proliquid, Aqualis Braemar, Seascape Marine Services, Viking Life-Saving Equipment, Helix Marine and Garship Marine Surveying and Consulting – essentially ensuring that the essential marine maintenance remains on track during this time within South African ports.

Staff moral and safety

Without exception, however, companies are reporting an immense willingness of employees to meet the current challenges. Companies are working with their employees to ensure that they remain safe and protected while attempting to minimise risk.

“I know that for our employees and their families, it is a time of some anxiety and concern about what may lie ahead in the weeks to come,” says Paul Maclons, CEO of AMSOL Group, who expressed his gratitude to his staff and highlighted that the strength of the company lies in its people.

“We will interrogate each callout prior to exposing our staff to potential risk,” says Helen O’Brien of Lovemore Bros who adds that their services will be under strict adherence to Health and Safety protocols without compromise.

“Our greatest concern, far above meeting the requirements of the local authorities, was to ensure the safety of our Launch Crews.   They could not access transport to and from their homes, in time to meet the round the clock operational times.  OMS therefore had to engage our drivers to collect the crews from their homes, duly permitted and documented, with all crew wearing appropriate PPE,” says Godfrey Needham of Offshore Maritime Services (OMS).

Linsen Nambi’s Managing Director has adopted the same approach to his coalface workers; “We continue to put the safety of our people as our main priority, instituting stringent safety measures, to reduce human contact as well as increase hygiene,” he says.

“All services will be rendered with strict health and safety regulations, and protocols stipulated by the South African government during the lockdown period,” says Keith Govender of Anchora Enterprises echoing the commitment of all of the companies to introduce more stringent precautionary measures during these times.

Looking ahead, many are concerned that the lockdown could extend beyond the three weeks initially announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Despite having been given the opportunity to offer services and supplies, restrictions and risks do apply. In addition, the reality of a shrunken market that awaits after lockdown will no doubt effect even these companies that are currently operational.


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