Salvage ships by 2011?

South Africa should have at least one new deep ocean salvage ship in service by 2011.

The ship, the first of two, will then replace the 35-year-old 94.6m Smit Amandla built at Durban in 1976 as the “John Ross”.


SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) CEO Tsietsi Mokhele says the Smit Amandla is privately-owned but under government contract to be on standby off the South African coast for rescue towage.

Its current, temporary, contract expires in September. Smit`s long term contract expired last year. Mokhele expects Smit or another party to be awarded an interim contract to cover the period between then and the arrival of the first new salvage ship in 2011.

Mokhele also expects the award of a contract to build the vessels that could cost between R360- and 400-million by the Third Quarter, adding that 24 months should be budgeted for their construction. He is keen that precedent is followed and the ships be built locally.    

The Samsa chief says a feasibility study has been done to determine “what type of vessel is sufficient for our needs.” He notes SA was one of the first countries to have salvage tugs on standby around coast and has now had such a service in place for 40 years.


“Ships are now safer but have grown so big that any disaster would have a devastating effect,” he says, adding that 30% of the current world crude trade flows around the SA coast. This translates as 5000 very-large or ultra-large crude carriers.


Until recently traffic was largely east to west, but now, with Angola exporting to China, it has also developed a west to east momentum.


“It is very scary,” he says, continuing that having the ships to hand has been helpful but that there have bee many “near misses”.


As a consequence, the feasibility study suggests a return to a previous status quo of two vessels, one dedicated to west coast standby and another for SA`s east coast. Both would also look south.


A multipurpose requirement


Mokhele says the current requirement is more for a multipurpose vessel than an offshore tug. “You don`t find dedicated salvage vessels any more. Ships are safer now, so there are not that many incidents; but when they happen they are devastating.”


The ideal vessel should therefore have other uses as well, for example as a training ship, for positioning maritime aids-to-navigation and wreck marking. “The scary part is most [wrecks] remain unmarked.” Other tasks would include buoy tendering, civil hydrography and patrolling. Some kind of helicopter capability will also be welcome, he adds.

He is keen that the ships enjoy high utilisation and not be reactive, as is the case with an ambulance service.


Several ownership models are under consideration, including private ownership as is currently the case, joint- and state ownership, with the vessel either belonging to Samsa or the Department of Transport. Mokhele says sustainability will be the key. It is likely the ships will be state owned, but operated by a private entity.


Mokhele was wary of describing the best design, saying they would put out a request for proposal regarding optimum dimensions, speed and endurance.


Even so, the specifications of the Smit Amandla may be instructive: The 2899mt 94.6m vessel has a bollard pull of 181 mt, a maximum speed of 20 knots with an endurance of 38 days at that speed and a range of 18 240 nautical miles. At economical speed (13-15 knots), Smit Amandla can steam 23 520nm over 70 days.


The ship can accommodate 28 officers and crew (including six cadets) and has a sickbay with four berths, if required.