Nairobi International Convention on Removal of Wrecks ratification: briefing by Department of Transport

NCOP Economic and Business Development

17 March 2015
Chairperson: Suka, Mr L
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Meeting Summary

The Select Committee on Economic Development met to receive a briefing from the Department of Transport (DOT) on the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007. Ratification would allow South Africa to be a party as a signatory to the Convention, as adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in Kenya in 2007. The Department presented the Convention in its entirety and gave the Committee a full picture of how the adoption of this international agreement would assist the country economically and environmentally. The Committee engaged with the report extensively, after which the Convention received a unanimous endorsement from the Committee to refer it to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for consideration. The Committee was told that the Convention had also received full backing from all interested parties during the consultations in which the DOT had engaged before presenting it to the Select Committee. 

On of the issues raised dealt with the safeguarding of the contents of wrecks found by divers, and how the DOT would trace the owners and in turn recover the lost goods. The DOT communicated that a framework of recovery currently existed, and more work would be done to ensure that the process was not victim to criminal activities which could be abused by either divers or DOT staff with access to the goods. Also the State would intervene, should the DOT not be able to resolve the issue.

Members expressed concern about the costs of salvaging operations, as responsibility would rest on the DOT to remove wrecks and assist ships. However, with the adoption of this Convention, the cost issue would be shifted to private salvors who, as a result of the Convention, would be able to recover any costs from the owner of the ship, or the country of registry. The Convention would also promote economic growth in the country and allow for job creation and skills development, as the operations would be open only to local salvors, and not to foreign businesses.

Meeting report

Opening remarks by Chairperson

Mr E Makue (ANC, Gauteng) took over the role of chairperson in the absence of Mr L Suka (ANC, Eastern Cape). He apologised on behalf of Mr Suka, who would send a written apology. He welcomed Members of the Committee and visitors. He raised a concern with the Department over the timing of the presentation being submitted. The document should have been submitted seven days prior to the meeting. For a full engagement to occur, the Select Committee needed to scrutinise it rigorously and give proper oversight. However, late submission compromised this process, as the Committee had many other departments and state owned enterprises reporting to it. He welcomed the Department of Transport, to give the briefing on the Ratification of the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007, which had been submitted about a month ago, and also to present a recommendation of adoption. The office had a problem with printing, but  the documents had been circulated electronically, and the Committee did not have hardcopies.

The Chairperson asked if there were any apologies from Members.

Mr W Faber (DA, Northern Cape) indicated that the documents received could not be opened using Apple software, and raised concerns about the matter. He added he was on the ICT focus group on parliamentary applications, and stressed the importance of getting agendas and presentations electronically, as this was the way forward.

Mr J Londt (DA, Western Cape) indicated that Ms E van Lingen (DA, Eastern Cape) had a death in family and had submitted an apology, which the Secretary confirmed as having been received.

The Chairperson asked Members to observe a moment of silence for Mr Chabane and his protectors.

Briefing on Ratification of Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007

Ms Nosipo Sobekwa, Acting Deputy Director General, Department of Transport (DOT), apologised for the absence of the Director General, due to unforeseen circumstances arose. She introduced her  team as Mr Mthunzi Madiya, Acting Chief Director, DOT, and Mr Pumlani Mbeki, Deputy Director: Legal Manager, Policy in Legislation, DOT.

Ms Sobekwa said that the Convention was adopted in Nairobi, Kenya, by the International Maritime Organisation. The purpose of the Department’s briefing was to brief the NCOP on the Convention, and to request the NCOP to approve its ratification and recommend its tabling to the National Assembly. She also intended relaying to the NCOP  the areas of particular interest in the Convention to South Africa, and how it would assist in achieving the goals of the National Development Plan.

The Convention applied only to conventional vessels – over 300 gross tonnes -- and they fell under Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The International Maritime Organization (IMO) had decided to adopt this Convention as an increasing amount of accidents were occurring at sea. South Africa had the most treacherous waves in the world and many storms, resulting in many incidents near Cape Agulhas and along the Wild Coast. SA had a standby tug watching the waters to look out for incidents. SA was the first country to have such a standby tug. The problem was that when there were incidents, blame was apportioned, costs had to be shared, and assistance was needed. If one was not a signatory, one was not assisted and faced difficulty. The vessels coming to SA were not regulated by local rules, but instead adhered to the international conventions as set by the IMO.

The Convention would apply to all craft in the definitions list, as well as the areas, but it would not apply to the seabed -- only where the vessels were floating. A wreck included the sunken or stranded ship, as well as all the contents thereof. Divers therefore had the responsibility to submit wrecks to the State, and retaining any contents found would be a punishable offence. The State would then seek to find the owner. A maritime casualty was a collision of ships which may convert into a wreck.

Member state of the IMO had responsibilities to identify, report and assist a wreck identified in their territorial waters. SA could withdraw or adopt the Convention, to be done through the Secretary-General (SG) of the IMO. The Convention would not apply to high seas, land or water not controlled or belonging to any member state, neither would it apply to warships or non- commercial ships unless the National Assembly deemed otherwise. Cooperation between member states, the IMO and the country where vessel was registered, was important. The affected state was where the wreck occurred.

Ms Sobekwa said it was the Master’s duty to report the wreck by consulting the affected State. The affected state had an obligation to remove the wreck when the home country had not removed it, and could subsequently claim from the owner of the ship. Vessels must carry a certificate proving it is insured at all times. SA has a salvor, therefore SA rules must kick in immediately where there is any damage on our waters. The incidents have tiers, and the third tier was the worst case scenario. The Government must ensure that it protects South African waters, as there were economic consequences, the ecosystem must be protected.

All the relevant structures, including the Cabinet and the National Assembly (NA) had been consulted. Statutory inspections had been done by Port State control, carried out in terms of IMO laws. There were financial implication only if vessels belonged to SA. However, if state opted to remove a wreck, then the claim process can be implemented, unless it had been abandoned. SA Maritime Safety Authority-- a technical wing of the DOT -- had participated in all deliberations. All appropriate structures had supported and approved the Convention’s adoption.

Ms Sobekwa stressed her belief of why the Convention must be adopted, as this would result in much needed economic growth, job creation, and local salvors would have preferences, which was aligned to the objectives of the NDP and Operation Phakisa. Further the Convention would bring about skills development, as more divers would be trained for the local salvors.

Time frames could not be pinpointed, as this would depend on the work of the NA.


Mr M Khawula (IFP, Gauteng) wanted to know of the benefits to SA in signing the Convention. He was of the impression that Ms Sobekwa did not believe that benefits did accrue to SA, as it was not a signatory currently. What was happening at the moment? What happened if a vessel was not insured? What were the disadvantages to non-signatories currently?

Mr Faber asked, if there  were to be a case that SA had a huge oil spill and did not have people to handle it, did other countries have an obligation to assist us. What was the position when ships were abandoned, in particular the Chinese ships which were not insured?

Ms M Dikgale (ANC, Limpopo) said the presentation had been insightful, but asked for clarity on how the State would monitor who collected the contents of wrecks in the sea, pointing out what happened in mining, where some did illegal mining and were not caught. Her further concern was how Parliament would monitor the State being reimbursed where shipwrecks have been salvaged by the state. She also enquired how the management and monitoring of the benefits to the state would happen.

Ms Sobekwa replied that the benefits of compliance would result in businesses being created for salvors, as well as job creation for the salvage workers. The disadvantage would be like the recent Seli 1 shipwreck which occurred at Blaauwberg, which was a cost to the State and subsequently the taxpayers. As non-members/signatories, the shipwreck would be our responsibility, and we would not be able to claim from the owner. The oil spillage had been accommodated by the capacity which SA now has through the National Contingency Plan, and the salvors which currently exist. Collection of the contents of wrecks was a process initiated by the state, or the Department of Transport, whereby the goods would be traced to their owners, who would  be contacted to collect their goods. This would be done via the country’s ships registry.

Mr Mbeki said that if ships were not insured or were without certain documentation, through the SA Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), the DOT would be able to arrest ships which landed up in SA waters. Further the intention was to deter owners who knew that their ships were not in good shape, but still continued let the ships operate. This Convention mitigated the financial downside for the country. There was an example of R6m being spent on a ship which had been abandoned for eight months.

Ms Dikgale enquired how the DOT would ensure the safekeeping of the wrecks’ contents, as they would provide an opportunity for potential theft.

Ms Sobekwa said that the DOT would lock up the goods while it was looking for the owner. The state could take over. Goods could be archived. The DOT must develop systems and controls to safeguard items, failing which it could seek intervention from the state.

Mr Londt expressed concerns over the timeframe, and the separation of owner, crew, and insurance. SA would need tight deadlines for everyone to adhere to, as time was money. The longer a ship spent in our waters, the higher the costs incurred.

The Chairperson asked why the Convention was coming to the Committee only at this point in time. He further outlined procedure of how the two houses (NA and NCOP) operated regarding such conventions and international agreements. The Department had to submit the Convention to the Portfolio Committee of the NA on Transport.

The presentation had listed important definitions. In the strategic plan of the DOT, it was in the process of expanding SA’s sea economy in line with Operation Phakisa, but the concern was whether the Convention would indeed cover this expansion. The issue of pirate ships had been raised -- should there be a pirate ship which became a wreck, would the convention cover it?

Mr Mbeki said that there was a need to develop regulations as to when the DOT must act in response to the time pressure. A presentation had already been made to the Portfolio Committee on Transport. The problem existed with the framework of the Merchant Shipping act of 1951, which had too many loopholes in some provisions in the Act, and which the IMO in its conventions had been done away with. The Department had asked consultants from the IMO to assist in developing the new Act. However, this would be done in the form of an overhaul of the Act.

Ms Sobekwa said that the IMO kept reviewing its own regulations from time to time. It was therefore standard practice that member states should keep up with the changes. However, South Africa had not changed anything, so it was behind.

Mr Madiya said SA had made an application to the UN to expand the economic exclusive zone to develop the ocean economy and drive operation Phakisa. The DOT would come back on jurisdiction once the UN had replied on increasing the territory.

Ms Sobekwa referred to the economic part of Operation Phakisa, warning against foreign businesses tapping into Operation Phakisa’s provisions. These should be reserved solely for SA businesses, as they would give salvors locally the chance to flourish.

Mr Mbeki said that pirate vessels were owned by individuals and would therefore fall within the Convention. Should it become a wreck, the DOT would trace the registry. If  there was no owner, then the owner’s state would  have to take responsibility. However, the DOT was hoping to return with a clear definition of piracy from the conference to be attended shortly.

Mr B Nthebe (ANC, North West) said that the Convention compelled master and operator to report wrecked vessels. However what could be done to ensure enforceability. How would SA force compliance? Wrecks were worth millions of rands in the scrap metals market -- how would SA ensure that these materials did not land up in that market? He was happy the NA had recommended closing a gap in the legislation. He moved the adoption of the Convention.

Ms M Dikgale (ANC, Limpopo) supported the proposal, and asked the DOT to check the presentation thoroughly in future, to avoid mistakes.

Ms Sobekwa responded to the enforcement questions. The Port State Control had the authority to detain any vessel if the Conventions were not adhered to. Not all wrecks were scrapped, and there could be useable items which were found. Other laws kicked in if scrap were found. SA had specific environmental and dumping laws to recycle scrap materials.

The Chairperson said an international agreement binds a country only if approved in both houses.

He noted that this was not an agreement under sub-section 3. The report of the Select Committee on Economic and Business Development, having considered the request of the Nairobi Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007, recommended that the House adopts the Convention. The Committee unanimously approved and accepted.

He thanked the Department for the presentation.

Adoption of Committee Reports

The minutes of two meetings, 25 November 2014 and 24 February 2015 were adopted, with a minor amendment.

The meeting was adjourned.

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