A R100-million partnership that could bring new life to Nelson Mandela Bay’s boatbuilding industry was cemented yesterday between the Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA) and local company Tide Marine Shipyard.
They held a keel-laying ceremony for a plough tug, to be built by Tide Marine for the TNPA.
The ceremony involved the welding of a commemorative gold coin under the keel, or the spine of the ship. According to maritime tradition, this step will bring good fortune.
The function followed a stringent tender process that saw Tide Marine being awarded the R100-million contract to build the tug, which is to be used to smooth out high spots created by marine traffic in high-volume berthing areas, thereby keeping the ports’ berths to their promulgated depths.
TNPA executive manager for dredging services, Carl Gabriel, said the tug would also be critical to dredging operations, as its small size enabled it to be guided into more confined spaces than other tugs could enter.
During his keynote address at the ceremony, the TNPA’s general manager for infrastructure and port planning, Hamilton Nxumalo, said the new vessel would be the first of its kind to be built for the TNPA in South Africa.
It also formed part of the TNPA’s R2-billion-plus fleet renewal programme for its dredging services department.
“This is the dream of an ocean economy being realised,” Nxumalo said. “Catering for larger commercial vessels in our ports requires a world-class dredging and marine fleet – and South African shipbuilders continue to demonstrate their expertise in producing vessels that can compete with the global industry.”
Tide Marine shipyard general manager Fabian Crocker emphasised the company’s commitment to furthering the marine skills base at local level.
“This project will go a long way towards revitalising Nelson Mandela Bay’s boat-building sector and we are grateful to Transnet for the trust they have placed in a smaller, but well-established player in the industry,” Crocker said.
“All of the steel – around 200 tons – to be used in this project will be sourced from within South Africa.”
The project is also expected to create up to 30 jobs in technical fields such as engineering, boiler-making and welding.
“We will also be upskilling local marine engineering students with on-site experience.”
Tide Marine, which previously operated out of East London under the leadership of Crocker’s late father Trevor, moved to the port of Port Elizabeth in 2013 and was awarded the contract in October 2016, with initial work beginning in September last year.
“We’ve worked with Transnet before, but this first building of a commercial vessel is a turning point for us [and will give us a chance] to show our mettle. [It shows there is] ample space and opportunities for smaller players [in the maritime industry].
“We are walking the talk of Operation Phakisa, because without it a small company like us would never have access to an opportunity [of this size].”
The company, currently under the leadership of Crocker’s wife, Taneal Crocker, will be supported with technical expertise by the naval architecture firm Naval Africa.
The as yet unnamed vessel is expected to be handed over to the TNPA’s dredging services by October this year.
In the next few months the plough tug will be relocated from the contractor’s workshop to the port’s recently upgraded 40-ton slipway and boat hoist in the ship repair precinct, where its accommodation facilities and final fittings will be added.