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Disappointment as TNPA opts for second-hand tugs
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Disappointment as TNPA opts for second-hand tugs

Ports Authority calls for proposals to procure five used tugs

SOUTH AFRICA: A local shipyards has expressed disappointment at what seems like an apparent departure from strategies to support the local ship building sector, with Transnet National Ports Authority calling for proposals for the supply of five second hand tugs for use in the country’s eight commercial ports.

The tender for three new tugs that was issued towards the end of 2022 and which closed in January of this year has now reportedly been cancelled. Describing it as an “unfortunate situation,” CEO of Sandock Austral Shipyards (SAS), Prasheen Maharaj,  noted the cancellation of the previous tender and the call for the supply of used vessels with disappointment.

“By buying tugs overseas, they will not only get a compromised vessel, but they will also rob the local industry of jobs and the government of taxes,” he told Maritime Review.

Although the request from TNPA does allow for locally-built second-hand tugs to be sourced, the reality is that such vessels are unlikely to be available on the market. As such, by opting to procure second-hand vessels as part of their fleet modernisation and upgrade programme, the decision does seem to fly in the face of initiatives such as Operation Phakisa as well as the Ocean’s Economy Master Plan.

Operation Phakisa had succeeded in establishing shipbuilding as a designated sector – making it mandatory for all public entities to procure vessels that comply with local content requirements. The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) has set a 60 per cent local content for all working vessels procured by the State.

According to the proposal documents, much of TNPA’s fleet needs to be replaced and some of the existing tugs are operating at lower bollard pull than was originally designed. A decision now to procure from the second-hand market could result in a long-term trend that will have a dire impact on the local shipbuilding sector.

TNPA is aiming to identify tugs that are under six years old which will, therefore, offer the Authority a good decade of service before they need to be replaced.

Emphasising that TNPA has had a fleet acquisition strategy in place for the last seven years, Maharaj believes that this situation could have been avoided. “They failed to implement their fleet acquisition strategy by not putting out Request for Proposals. Now they have created a self-inflicted crisis resulting in them having to purchase second-hand vessels that may not be suited to Transnet's operational requirements. This can be evidenced by the recent acquisitions of second-hand vessels that have not performed optimally,” he says.

Maharaj adds that locally manufactured tugs can be purpose-built for TNPA requirements to offer fire-fighting capabilities and work within the country’s ports. Having supplied the ports with one of the largest tug-building contracts in recent history, he says that these vessels are now used all over the country; work in confined spaces and are easy to navigate.

While there are no design requirements listed for the new procurements within the spec of the tender, TNPA is looking to acquire vessels that are less than 500 gross tons and powered by either Voith Schneider, Azimuth or Schottel Rudder propulsion systems.

The request from TNPA also includes the need to provide training for a minimum of 24 crew members per tug on all of the installed systems including the supply of training manuals – and should result in the ability for the Authority to conduct its own inhouse training of other personnel.

While the decision not to build new vessels for the ports at this time will be disappointing for local shipyards, it may be welcomed by port users who seek to see better availability of harbour tugs within the ports and improved efficiencies sooner rather than later.

Continued breakdowns and unavailability of tugs prompted statements from TNPA that they would be looking to acquire additional tonnage – especially for the Port of Durban where operations had to be bolstered by tugs deployed from other ports.

In January this year, Mpumi Dweba-Kwetana, port manager of Durban, was quoted in the media about the potential acquisition of two second-hand tugs for the Port of Durban which were expected to be delivered by August.

The most recent tug replacement programme was undertaken with Sandock Austral Shipyards (previously Southern African Shipyards) who delivered eight tugs with a 70 ton bollard pull to the Authority over a number of years starting in 2014. Prior to this project, TNPA’s tugs exhibited only 32 to 40 ton bollard pull.

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