From trade to evacuations, SA seaports prepare for coronavirus challenge

(Photo: Craig Dodds).
(Photo: Craig Dodds).

As from Wednesday March 18, the new maritime regulations kicked in to deal with the coronavirus challenge.

From visas to managing trade and evacuations, seaports are preparing for the period that lies ahead.

"We continue to fight the scare of coronavirus, including what its implication is for us in terms of the maritime industry, which Covid-19 affects," Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula said at a media briefing in Cape Town on Wednesday afternoon.

"At the same time, our ports play a very important role in terms of trade to sustain our economy and keep the country supplied."

The regulations also enhance the power of the operating authorities to improve hygiene and so mitigate the spread of the virus and ensure that those working on the front lines are supplied with the necessary safety equipment.

Furthermore, since the new regulations announced by the president ban gatherings of more than 100 people, this would be enforced in seaports as well. This is to promote the keeping of safe social distances.

The regulations give effect to the prohibition of the embarkation and disembarkation of passengers at seaports. No passenger vessels will be allowed in SA’s ports. Crew changes are also prohibited for all vessels including merchant vessels.

Cargo ships will still be allowed to load and offload cargo in SA’s ports as trade will not stop.

Preparing for evacuations

Mbalula said that, because SA is a coastal state, it also has a responsibility.

"We are a coastal state and we have the responsibility in terms of international shipping to provide emergency help, including evacuations," said Mbalula.

"We will assess these on an ad hoc basis for medical evacuations."

'We are not targeting people'

At the briefing Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi announced at the briefing that certain visas already granted to Chinese and Iranean applicants earlier this year are being revoked.

Furthermore, passport holders from European countries which did not previously need visas would need to apply for a visa from now on. Those already in the country on valid visas will be fine until their visas expire.

"We are not targeting anyone. We are not going after people. We are dealing with a virus. So we have to go with protocols and guidelines," said Motsoaledi.

"The regulations we announced today is just to guide us in dealing with these challenges."

Ships which were on their way to SA already before the latest announcements, and of which the SA port authorities had been notified, will be allowed to dock and then an assessment will be made for appropriate procedures from there.

Motsoaledi told Fin24 that all the announcements can be considered as temporary measures aimed to fight the coronavirus and that they will be assessed in future as matters become clearer.

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