The Department briefed the Committee on the Merchant Shipping (Safe Containers Convention) Bill. The purpose of the Bill was to give effect to the International Convention for Safe Containers which South Africa was a part of. South Africa had been a Contracting Party to the International Convention since 1982. The purpose of the Convention was to maintain a high level of safety of human life in the transport and handling of containers by providing generally acceptable test procedures and strength requirements which were acceptable. The Convention set out procedures for the safety approval of containers used in international transport. Approved containers would be identified by a safety approval plate, which would be affixed to the container and contain relevant technical data about the container to which it was affixed.
Members wanted to know why the Department of Trade and Industry had not implemented this Bill as they were the first custodians of this legislation. Members were concerned about the financial impact of the Bill although the Department did not foresee any immediate implications. One Member was worried about the situation in Cape Town whereby international shipping companies were storing their containers for long periods of time. He wanted to know whether there was any control over the situation. Members wanted to know whether this Bill also made provision for the content of containers. Members were overall pleased with the presentation but requested that the Department find out exactly why this Convention was not implemented by the Department of Trade and Industry.
Merchant Shipping Safe Containers Convention Bill: presentation
Mr Adam Masombuka, Acting Chief Director: Legislation, Department of Transport, briefed the Committee on the Bill. He explained that South Africa was a Contracting Party to the International Convention for Safe Containers since its accession in June 1982. The Convention was adopted on 2 December 1972 and entered into force on 6 September 1977. There were currently 65 Contracting Parties to this convention. The convention was domestically given effect to by enacting the International Convention for Safe Containers Act of 1985.
The objects of the Bill were to maintain a high level of safety of human life in the transport industry and handling of containers by providing a generally acceptable test procedures and related strength requirements. The Bill would also to facilitate international transport of containers by providing uniform international safety regulations, equally applicable to all modes of surface transport in order to avoid a proliferation of divergent national safety regulations.
Mr Masombuka then noted that the requirements of the Convention applied to the great majority of freight containers used internationally, except those for carriage by air. The scope of the Convention was limited to containers of a prescribed minimum size having corner fittings, in other words, devices allowing handling, securing or stacking. The Convention set out the safety approval procedures of international containers for the organisation acting on its behalf. Approved containers would be identified by a safety approval plate, which would be affixed to the container under the authority of an administration. The safety approval plate would contain relevant technical data about the container to which it was affixed. This safety approval plate shall be recognised by the other Contracting States and this principal of reciprocal acceptance was the cornerstone of the Convention. Once approved and plated, it was expected that containers would move in international transport with the minimum of safety and control formalities. The subsequent maintenance of a safety-approved container was the responsibility of the owner, who was required to have the container examined periodically. The technical annex to the Convention required that a container underwent various tests, representing a combination of safety requirements of both the inland and maritime modes of transport.
Mr Masombuka said that since its inception the Convention had undergone several amendments. He then continued by giving an overview of the Bill. The Bill proposed to re-assign functions related to the implementation and administration of the Convention, from the Department of Trade and Industry to the Minister of Transport. This would ensure that the functions were assigned to the appropriate authorities having the responsibility for transport and related safety matters. The Bill declared certain provisions of the Convention to have the force of law and empowered the Minister of Transport to make regulations for carrying out and giving effect to the provisions of the Convention.
Mr Masombuka explained that the Bill would, for example, establish the requirements for the approval, maintenance, repair, inspection, detection, detention, and disposal of containers. The Bill created offences and penalties for non compliance with the Act and the regulations, and the administration and enforcement of the proposed measures were entrusted to the South African Maritime Safety Association (SAMSA). The Bill empowered the Authority to designate inspectors to direct inquiries into certain accidents and incidents.
With regards to consultation, the Bill was published for consultation in Gazette No. 32100 of 15 April 2009 and comments were received from SAMSA and Transnet. The Bill was also circulated to various state departments for comments. The Bill was presented to the Portfolio Committee on Transport and the Committee had approved the Bill. All the comments received were incorporated into the Bill. Mr Masombuka said that there were no financial implications to the Bill because there were already SAMSA inspectors who were planning to carry out the inspections as outlined in the Convention.
Ms M Themba (ANC, Mpumalanga) asked for the reasons why the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) could not implement the Convention.
Mr Masombuka replied that he had researched this question and was still not able to understand why the dti was not able implemented the Convention. The decision was then taken by the Department of Transport to formulate this Bill so that the Convention could be implemented.
Mr H Groenewald (DA, North West) noted that in the Bill it stated that the containers remained the property of owners. He wanted to know what the situation was in Cape Town with numerous amounts of containers stacked along the N1 highway for prolonged periods of time. He wanted to know whether international shipping companies were using South African ports as a “dumping site” for their unused containers.
Mr Masombuka replied that South African coastal cities were not being used as dumping sites. The Maritime Directorate and SAMSA monitored the storage of containers and had agreements with owners.
Mr R Tau (ANC, Northern Cape) thought it was a good idea that the Department of Transport was taking responsibility for this Bill. He wanted to know whether the implementation of this Convention would have any financial implications on current owners who had containers which did not comply with the Convention standards.
Mr Masombuka replied that the majority of current containers being used were already compliant with the standards set by the Convention. In the event where it was found that some containers were not compliant, and had to be scrapped, the Department would have to look at developing an assistance project to help those owners financially. For now, this was not mandated by the Department.
Mr M Jacobs (ANC, Free State) wanted to know whether there were any regulations that controlled the contents of containers.
Mr Masombuka replied that there were other regulations pertaining to the carriage of dangerous goods and exactly how containers should be packed to avoid accidents.
Mr Tau (ANC, Northern Cape) commented that perhaps the individuals who were working at the dti had no interest in implementing the Convention, and therefore it had not been done.
Ms L Mabija (ANC, Limpopo) said that it was difficult for the Committee to support the Bill without any valid reasons why the Convention was not implemented by the dti. She suggested that reasons be given and the Department should go and find out what had happened.
Mr D Feldsman (COPE, Gauteng) said that he would support the Bill. He asked whether the safety or security of containers were covered in the Bill.
Mr Masombuka replied that the security of containers was already covered by other legislation. The safety of containers was addressed by the Convention as outlined in the Bill.
The meeting was adjourned.
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