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HomeInformationNewsCOVID-19 - South African shipping perspective

COVID-19 – South African shipping perspective

South Africa has a coastline of 3,900 km with trade in and out being serviced by 8 operational ports shown as below..

Image from Transnet

Transnet National Port Authority is one of five operating divisions of Transnet SOC Ltd​​​ and is responsible for the safe, effective and efficient economic functioning of the national port system, which it manages in a landlord capacity..

The national ports authority provides port infrastructure and marine services at the eight commercial seaports in South Africa with below key infrastructure facilities *

  • 19 container berths;
  • 36 dry-bulk berths;
  • 29 break-bulk berths;
  • 13 liquid-bulk berths; and
  • 8 entrance channels with supporting breakwaters, turning basins, networks and utilities.

using below key resources *

  • 26 tugs;
  • 9 pilot boats;
  • 2 pilot helicopters;
  • 7 work boats;
  • 4 dredgers; and 3 survey boats.

* Information from Transnet website

Using this infrastructure, South Africa exports and imports of goods equivalent to the value of about 60% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).. This puts international trade front and center of South Africa’s economy..

The size of this trade indicates that South Africa is a very open economy.. While having an open economy is a good thing, it does expose the country to greater volatility as the economy is influenced by global events and economies to a large extent..

In December 2019, South Africa had a very good month in terms of trade balance because it had a ZAR14.8 billion positive trade balance with the rest of the world meaning that South Africa exported ZAR14.8 billion more in goods than what it imported..

As per data from SARS, the Top 5 countries who traded with SA were China, USA, Germany, UK and India..

The robustness of this trade could however, suffer due to the current hot topic which has literally gone viral (pun intended).. Corona Virus or COVID-19..

The burning question that everyone has is what impact will COVID-19 have on South Africa’s trade especially as all of the above 5 countries have been affected by the virus with China being the worst affected and others not far behind..

While the effects of the virus in China seems to be calming down or tapering, it seems the rest of the world and South Africa is just getting started..

There we 61 identified cases of COVID-19 on the 15th March when the President of South Africa declared a national state of disaster and as of the 18th March, the number had gone to 116 cases which means the cases have almost doubled in 4 days..

Logically we should assume there will be an increase in such cases and also brace ourselves for the disruptions that COVID-19 will cause especially in the operation of the ports and trade..


Andrew Pike, Head of Bowmans Ports, Logistics and Transport sector shares some useful information on COVID-19 from South Africa’s shipping perspective..

Andrew Pike - Author - Against All Odds - the epic story of the Oceanos Rescue

Sweeping regulatory controls have been introduced, almost overnight, by the principal governmental role players in the ports and shipping sector. The controls are too many to list in this article, but summaries of what has been covered in the various notices appear below, together with access to those notices.

The SOUTH AFRICAN MARITIME SAFETY AUTHORITY (SAMSA) has published several Marine Notices. The first such notice regarding Statutory surveys, seafarers and fishers, crew changes and ships agents is available here:

  • MN 13 of 2020 – Coronavirus: Vessels and Seafarers

The second SAMSA notice provides information on the virus (such as symptoms, precautions a check-list and so on), emergency contact information, medevac information, details of SAMSA’s task team and a raft of helpful links. The notice is available here:

  • MN 14 of 2020 – Coronavirus: Information and Emergency Contact Details

The third SAMSA notice provides details of the DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH notice regarding the control of health measures in the shipping industry. This is available here:

  • MN 15 of 2020 – COVID-19: Update No1 – Government Announcement With Regard To Port Calls From Vessels: To Be Implemented 18 March 2020

TRANSNET NATIONAL PORTS AUTHORITY, initially published a relatively generic action plan for controlling COVID-19. It dealt with issues such as hygiene and waste measures in ports and on ships, dealing with stowaways, arrival of foreign yachts, free pratique for ships and so on.

They have since published their most recent and more detailed notice which concerns issues such as health declarations by Masters and free pratique, PPE for pilots, waste removal from ships, especially those from most affected areas, crew changes and the like. The notice is to be found here:

Finally, the DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT on 18th March published in the Government Gazette new Regulations under the National Ports Act the effect of which are as follows:

  • South Africa’s eight commercial shipping ports are open for working cargo.
  • Ships must apply for free pratique at least 24 to 48 hours before arrival in port.
  • Restrictions have been put in place prohibiting crew changes and the embarkation / disembarkation of cruise passengers in two ports viz., Saldanha Bay and Mossel Bay.
  • In ALL sea ports, no passengers from cruise ships may disembark unless they are South African citizens or permanent residents.
  • A limit on public gatherings in port precincts has been set at no more than 100 people.

A number of cruise and other ships have been affected by the above regulations and notices.

The new regulations in terms of the National Disaster Act, 2002 were published on 18th March. These give sweeping powers to a number of Ministers, including the Minister of Transport, to give any direction to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This is particularly draconian, but must be read with underlying principles of reasonableness and proportionality, but it remains to be seen  how the Ministers will use these powers.

The Gazette can be downloaded here..

Further details are available from or via this blog so stay subscribed..

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