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Two decades of transforming maritime assets

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HMM Algeciras

Two decades of transforming maritime assets

[Durban, South Africa, 18 September 2020] This year marks the 20th year since South African port landlord Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) became a separate operating division of Transnet SOC Ltd, following the decision in 2000 to split the port business, Portnet, into landlord and terminal operator functions. The past two decades have been a period of transformation to cater for the rapidly evolving maritime industry.

The largest container vessel in 1997 had a capacity of 7226 TEUs.  The largest container vessel in 2020 is the HMM Algeciras which has three times that capacity at 23 964 TEUs. It is 400 m long, 61 m wide and has a draft of 16.5 m.

TNPA has transformed its maritime resources, replaced and built new infrastructure, replaced and grown its fleet and developed its marine and aviation personnel to ensure that the organisation is able to handle new generation vessels and compete effectively in an increasingly competitive global market.

In addition to meeting the challenges presented by bigger vessels carrying far greater volumes of cargo than ever before, South Africa’s ports are also dealing with the impact of climate change, which has resulted in more frequent adverse weather conditions and deadly storms.

Usiba, one of TNPA’s newer tugs built in Durban.


Among the larger infrastructure projects undertaken by TNPA to ensure that South Africa’s ports continue to best serve the country’s economy were the widening of the Durban entrance channel from 120m to 220m in 2005, the new Pier 1 Container Terminal in 2007, and the new deep-water Port of Ngqura commissioned in 2009, which has become one of the fastest growing ports in Africa.

Opened in 2009, the Port of Ngqura, strategically positioned 20 kilometres from Port Elizabeth, provides a global transhipment hub to the container shipping lines. It is expected to grow cargo volumes from the current six million tonnes per annum to 110 million tonnes by 2050.

The long-term intention is to make the Port of Ngqura a global leader in manganese ore exports and an energy hub through the import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

TNPA acquired two new Agusta 109 SP helicopters

Fleet replacement

During the past two decades TNPA has also undertaken a fleet replacement programme to meet the needs of larger vessels.  Seven tugs were built in South Africa for TNPA by Southern African Shipyards from 2000-2011, demonstrating South Africa’s ability to compete in the global shipbuilding industry. More recently, nine powerful Voith Schneider tugs, also built by Southern African Shipyards were brought into service. TNPA supports government’s mandate of localisation and has ensured the tugs were built in South Africa for South Africa.

Larger vessels and the impact of climate change have created a need for more powerful dredgers to dredge faster and more often, to ensure that channel entrances and berths are to depth.

New dredgers built for TNPA and taken into service include a new trailing suction hopper dredger – Isandlwana – with a capacity of 5000 m3 in 2010, new grab hopper dredger – Italeni – with a capacity of 750 m3 in 2014 and a second trailing suction hopper dredger – Ilembe – with a capacity of 5500 m3 in 2015.

TNPA has been a world leader pioneering change in the maritime industry.  It was the first port authority in the world to use helicopters to transfer marine pilots in 1995, used ever since in the Ports of Richards Bay and Durban.

In June 2019 TNPA acquired two new Agusta 109 SP helicopters to replace helicopters at these ports.  During 2019 TNPA also made the decision to extend its helicopter marine pilot transfer service to the Port of Cape Town, where service is disrupted during adverse weather when it is unsafe to transfer pilots from pilot boats.

Marine personnel transformation

TNPA was also at the forefront of transforming personnel in its marine department and the maritime industry at large.  TNPA began its transformation journey in 1999 when it selected twelve candidates for a training programme in Rotterdam that would deliver the marine pilots and harbour masters of the future.

Fast-tracked training, was introduced to address a critical shortage of marine pilots in South Africa and globally, as well as the need to create opportunities for previously disadvantaged individuals in a democratic South Africa.  The fast-tracked training programme was delivered by Shipping and Transport College (STC) in the Netherlands. They were early adopters of simulators for training, and designed a programme that enabled the candidates, who already had at least a third class ticket, to qualify as marine pilots in a shorter period than the traditional first class ticket.

Dubbed the Class of 99 they would lead the transformation of TNPA’s marine service and in turn, pave the way for a new generation of marine pilots, marine operations managers and harbour masters, that included women.

TNPA leads the world in terms of women in maritime with 39.4% of the mission critical jobs in the South African ports system held by women.

More recently, TNPA developed its own insourced aviation service, manned by a new generation of helicopter pilots and avionics engineers from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, taking its transformation to the skies.

Look out for info on the remaining TNPA commemorative activities in September including:

23 September – Virtual Celebration to mark 20 years of maritime transformation, Heritage Day and World Maritime Day. RSVP / register at http://ow.ly/W4BB50BrewV

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