South Africa’s maritime zones, signed into law by then-President Nelson Mandela on November 11, 1994 (Maritime Zones Act, 15 of 1994), cover the territorial waters, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the continental shelf and the Marion and Prince Edward Islands.
The Prince Edward Island Group is a South African possession situated some 540 nautical miles (nm) (1000 km) southeast of Port Elizabeth. This group has its own territorial waters, contiguous zone, EEZ and continental shelf.
All of these zones fall within the country`s jurisdiction for monitoring, control and enforcement of state authority which, in total, comprises some 1.26 million sq nm (4.34 million sq km) of assets. With this vast estate come certain rights and obligations upon which specific international institutions and legal norms have a direct bearing.
South Africa is a member of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and is also a member of the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO). As a subscriber to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), including being a signatory to the convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), South Africa is morally bound to observe these normative international guidelines.
In her territorial waters, South Africa has total sovereignty – although this is counterbalanced with the right to innocent passage by foreign shipping. In the contiguous zone, the RSA may enforce specific national legislation with respect to customs, immigration, health and fiscal issues. In the EEZ – including the continental shelf – the rights and obligations of South Africa are confined to exploration, exploitation and protection of the marine resources.
One of the obligations is that of search and rescue. The SA Search and Rescue (Sasar) area stretches from the international border between Angola and Namibia in the west around to the international border between South Africa and Mozambique in the east, a region of some 5.57 million sq nm (17,2 million sq km).
South Africa is expected to carry out search and rescue operations in this vast area in which some of the roughest seas in the world are encountered. The Sasar organisation is tasked to search for, assist and rescue vessels in distress as well as the survivors of aircraft and maritime accidents.
The South African economy and those of some of its neighbours are served by six major ports: Richards Bay, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Saldanha. The two KwaZulu-Natal ports, Richards Bay and Durban, provide the largest concentration of modern port facilities on the Southern African coast. In addition there are five dry-docks that are part of the country`s ship repair facilities. The people of South and Southern Africa are economically dependant upon world commerce and also on unfettered access to – and between – the South Atlantic and South Indian Oceans.
The significance of South Africa`s maritime trade is borne out by the following:
· 90 – 100 tankers round the Cape every month.
· Five million tons of oil move westbound around the Cape every month.
· Commercial ports: Durban is the busiest in Africa.
· 80% of imports and exports in monetary value pass through ports
· 95% of imports and exports in tonnage pass through ports
· More than 50% of the SA`s GDP is generated through its maritime foreign trade and sea fishing industry.
· South Africa is one of the world`s top 12 sea trading nations.
· No less than 98% of South Africa`s international trade moves by sea:
· Approximately 11 shipping lines are active along the African west coast, calling at South African ports, with seven shipping lines plying the Continent`s east coast.
· Close to 60 shipping lines operate services to and from South Africa to destinations worldwide. Nearly 40 ship agencies are presently economically active in the country, caring for merchant vessels, their cargo and crew. The approximately 140 million tons of cargo handled on average during a financial year is carried by more than 8900 vessels. Other vessels calling at South African ports number total more than 4200 a year, which include foreign fishing vessels, trawlers and service vessels. Approximately 13,500 vessels berth every year, with an average gross registered tonnage of 515.2 million tons.
South Africa`s economy is directly linked to her sea-lines of communication and that her sea trade is massively revenue generative. When coupled to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) members` combined population of some 100 million – excluding that of SA (55 million), it stands to reason that the prosperity of the region is highly dependant on (among other elements) the stability and unhindered flow of trade into and out of the region.