Keeping a cool head in the hot seat

Marine pilot Vuyani Ntsimango is up for the challenge of deputy harbour master
Marine pilot Vuyani Ntsimango is up for the challenge of deputy harbour master
Image: Supplied

From being undermined by foreign captains, to being exposed to diseases such as Ebola, Vuyani Ntsimango, of Kwazakhele, takes it all in his stride.

And having a cool head when trouble looms is just one of the reasons Ntsimango, a marine pilot by trade, was promoted to deputy harbour master in the Port of Port Elizabeth from September 1.

Where did your career start?

I started my career at the Port-net Fruit Terminal in Port Elizabeth. I worked as a cargo handler until October 1999.

My mathematics and physical science matric subjects allowed me to be accepted into the SA Navy to be trained as a combat officer on ships.

I commenced my military training at the SA Naval College in Gordon’s Bay.

Upon completion of my military training, I moved to Simonstown, where further training was conducted.

I sailed around the world to a few countries – one of my highlights was the visit in the Caribbean waters, Jamaica, Haiti and Reunion Island.

I then decided to apply for a job at the Transnet National Ports Authority, where I was appointed in the Port of Port Elizabeth as a trainee tug master, and started in 2008.

I worked as a tug master in the Port of Port Elizabeth until the opening of the new Port of Ngqura in September 2009.

I did tug master duties until I was nominated for pilot training in October 2011.

In 2012, I qualified as a restricted licence pilot in the Port of Durban and immediately relocated back to the Port of Port Elizabeth.

In 2013, I moved back to the newly built deepwater Port of Ngqura and continued with my pilot training.

I was mentored, coached and trained by different senior pilots.

The training was based on all weather conditions, docking and sailing of deep draft vessels, drill ships, oil rigs, bulk carriers, oil-carrying vessels that mostly have to dock side by side to transfer fuel from ship to ship.

I qualified as an open licence pilot in 2015 and have since been piloting in the Port of Ngqura.

What are your responsibilities as a marine pilot?

My duties are to safely dock, sail and shift vessels in the port.

I’m the team leader during the operation – giving instructions to the tug masters, berthing masters and advising the ship’s captain during the manoeuvring.

I also train junior pilots and monitor the pilot boat master’s competencies.

What are some of your career highlights?

My first highlight was when I qualified as an open licence pilot – the first person from the townships where I was brought up.

Other highlights include acting as deputy harbour master and harbour master, assisting with the launch of newly built boats by a local manufacturer, witnessing ship-to-ship fuel transfers in the Port of Lome in Togo, docking the biggest ship ever in the Port of Ngqura and furthering my studies through the Transnet bursary scheme.

What are the challenges you face in getting the job done as a marine pilot?

Challenges include overcoming rough sea conditions brought about by strong winds and long wave swells, by using various pilotage techniques.

Then there are also difficult clients who try to undermine you, like ships’ captains from different nationalities.

Other challenges include working shifts, which interfere with sleeping patterns, not having full control over resources, and exposure to diseases like Ebola.

What Transnet value do you regard as most important in the workplace?

To excel in customer service by giving high quality service in all tasks given.

What are the strong qualities that make you the best fit for this job?

It is my unique leadership style. It is the ability to work with my team towards this common goal of navigating the ship safely within the port.

This has worked well as it improved interaction, productivity and efficiency.

I always discourage individualism as it promotes pride, selfishness, arrogance and in the end causes division in my team.

I have discovered my purpose in life, which is evident in the way I conduct myself when performing my piloting and leadership roles.

This discovery has triggered a belief in myself.

This self-belief has generated a vision in my heart that stirred a passion to do my work.

This passion is what helps me to inspire and influence others. I believe that it’s this passion that always attracts my team.

The passion I have for my job is outstanding and generates so much energy to lead my people with ease.

I always motivate my trainee pilots, tug masters and berthing masters to empower themselves through education and training.

One of my personal proud moments is when I witness a pilot whose training I contributed to. That just fills my heart.

My ability to communicate with my people has helped me to interact with ship captains, tug masters, berthing masters and port controllers.

I have strong technical competency. I pay attention to details – piloting situations can change in a split second, so you need to be alert, quick to think, listen carefully and be observant in your surroundings – every second counts.

What drives you?

I’m a born-again Christian who believes in godly principles. Also I walk the talk and lead by example.

What advice would you give to a younger person starting out in such a career?

Training and education is a key factor. You will only earn respect when you respect others.

And grab someone who can mentor you throughout your journey.

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