Maritime icon turns 40

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The tug Smit Amandla (ZTUG) may be 40 years old, but she is still going strong and the ocean-going salvage tug has become a household name, not only in South Africa, but in the maritime industry worldwide.

The tug, previously known as the John Ross, together with her sister vessel Wolraad Woltemade, was built in the 1970s. The Smit Amandla became a critical pollution prevention defence along South Africa’s coast, a world first initiative subsequently replicated by other countries such as the United Kingdom and France.

On contract to the Department of Transport and working with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) to respond to maritime emergencies on the South African coast, the tug is a key part of the State’s pollution prevention strategy. It is on standby 24/7/365 at her home port of Cape Town, ready to respond to a callout within 30 minutes.

As a training platform, the Smit Amandla has been home to many seafarers who have gone on to become leaders in this field.

Smit Amandla’s continued importance is highlighted by the fact that she has been involved in six operational deployments in the first four months of 2016.

Highlighting her continued priority to respond to maritime emergencies, her ‘Fabulous at 40′ event had to be postponed in March when she was mobilised to tow the disabled bulk carrier ‘Monte Pelmo’ off Richards Bay to Durban.

Speaking at the birthday event attended by industry and maritime representatives earlier this month, current and past crew, Paul Maclons (MD of Smit Amandla Marine) said that 40 years of service “is quite a unique achievement in the maritime industry.”

By the early 1970s, the new ultra-large crude carriers (ULCC), too large to transit the Suez Canal, were making their mark around the South African coast as the Cape sea route became ever more popular. As a result, there was a need for fast-responding tugs.

The first tug in terms of the Standby Tug Contract, the Wolraad Woltemade, was laid down in Scotland’s Clyde shipyards in 1974 and launched in May 1975. The John Ross followed in 1976, having been built locally by James Brown & Hamer in Durban. At 94.6 metres in length, with a gross tonnage of 2 918 and a bollard pull of 150 – 165 tonnes, the two tugs were the most powerful in the world.

Originally owned by Safmarine, the John Ross passed to Pentow Marine and, in 2004, was sold in a black economic empowerment deal to Smit Amdla Marine, a joint venture with Dutch salvage company Smit Marine. In the process the tug was renamed Smit Amandla. Wolraad Woltemade in 2010 sailed out of Cape Town for the last time, bound for India where she was broken up.

After 40 years, the Smit Amandla is still considered to have many productive years of service left. Following a 2015 survey, it was noted that should the vessel remain manned, maintained and operated at current standards, the tug will be able to maintain station on the South African coast as an Emergency Towing and Salvage Vessel for many years to come.



Smit Amandla has good seakeeping qualities due to her large displacement (5000 tonnes) and deep draft. Her mobilisation ability and speed remains superior to all other vessels of her type through hull design and single propeller configuration, and she is in fact still classed as the fastest salvage tug in the world.