The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ research vessel Ellen Khuzwayo is back at sea after a seven-month layup.
Since being back at sea she has tackled a number of lobster and shark-longline research voyages. The vessel has also completed the first of several voyages to monitor the recovery of the benthic ecosystem in South African waters, following the ban on bottom trawling off Port Nolloth.
While she was laid up, a significant survey gap arose, which is now closing as she returns to her duties, Nautic South Africa said. The Cape Town-based company is managing the DAFF vessel fleet on behalf of the Department after the DAFF fleet was handed back by the South African Navy in May 2013. After extensive repairs and Flag/Class surveys, Ellen Khuzwayo returned to operational service in December 2013.
Nautic South Africa said it worked hard in getting the vessel compliant with local and international statutory maritime requirements during the seven months she was out of commission, and now their focus has shifted to maintaining her operational availability and managing her port calls.
“Careful and detailed planning is often a nice luxury to have, but in this phase of operations, we rely heavily on the experience and skills of our management and support teams. With no time to lose, our team is able to pull rabbits out the hat and meet the stringent demands of short port calls,” said Eddie Noble, Project Director for Nautic’s operations team.
Port calls involve regular logistic supply functions such as re-fuelling of the vessel, victualing (supply of food), consumables and crew swop-outs. However, there are always some issues that require urgent attention, such as spare parts and coordinating specialist contractors to carry out repairs and maintenance of equipment.
“Having a competent and versatile local maritime industry is a significant advantage, but the trick also lies in the ability to quickly identify and direct exactly what we need. Our team’s unique skills set and knowledge of the vessels, their operations and specific requirements allows us to achieve this,” said Anne Myers, Nautic’s Vessel Operations Manager.
Port calls and the management thereof are done for other vessels besides the Ellen Khuzwayo. Nautic South Africa handles all four of the DAFF vessels currently operational around the South African coastline.
The Ellen Khuzwayo was built in Cape Town by Farocean Marine and commissioned in 2007. As a research vessel, her main focus is on rock lobsters, line fish, sharks, pelagic long lining, marine mammal research and scientific diving. The vessel is equipped for environmental research to depths of 1000 meters and, operating mainly within South Africa’s EEZ, is used as part of the South African Government’s commitment to the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME).
To perform her primary function, the vessel has an acoustic lab, hydrology wet and dry labs, a CTD (connective tissue disease) wet lab, an operations room and a wet fish deck.
The DAFF fleet includes the inshore patrol vessels Victoria Mxenge, Lililan Ngoyi and Ruth First, the offshore patrol vessel Sarah Baartman, and fisheries research vessel Africana.
On April 24, 2013, Cape Town-based Nautic South Africa signed an agreement with the DAFF to take over the four fisheries protection and two fisheries research vessels from the South African Navy and get them fully operational again, ensuring they comply with Flag, Class and SAMSA requirements.
Nautic’s role is to assist in vessel operations, including bunkering, crewing and other logistics to ensure that the vessels are put to sea as quickly and efficiently as possible so that vital fisheries management functions can be performed.
Damen Shipyards is also involved in supporting the DAFF fleet and is responsible for maintenance and repair. Once Damen repairs the vessels and brings them back into Class, Nautic assumes control of the vessels for operations and routine maintenance.
Nautic South Africa is looking to expand its vessel operations management capabilities, and currently is tendering for the vessel management and technical assistance to Robben Island Museum’s ferries. This would be a natural extension of Nautic’s current services, and would enable improved economies of scale.