Today, 08 October 2018, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and Robben Island Management appeared before the Western Cape Provincial Parliament’s Standing Committee on Economic Opportunities, Tourism, and Agriculture to brief the committee on the implementation of the recommendations made in the investigative report issued by SAMSA on the Robben Island ferry incident which occurred on 15 September 2017.
I welcome the recommendations adopted by Robben Island to its ferry services following the incident, and I am pleased to see that the Island’s management has taken the matter so seriously. I welcome, most notably, the following adoptions:
That all Robben Island passenger vessels from now on will communicate with Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) on current weather and swell data going forward;
That passenger lists will now be available on every vessel leaving Nelson Mandela Gateway and the island;
That ‘mystery shoppers’ have been appointed to monitor safety briefings on the vessels;
That Robben Island Museum and TNPA have agreed on a reporting protocol, notified of all departures and passenger numbers per trip;
That two harbour masters have been appointed to monitor weather and carry out audits; and
That regular training and drills have been conducted with staff members on life raft deployment and evacuation.
I must also commend SAMSA for issuing fines to both the owners and skipper of Thandi, the ferry implicated in last year’s incident, and for hosting a Passenger Vessel Safety Indaba focusing on the call to prevent loss of life and rescue with the industry. I am glad that this is prospected to be an annual event.
Alan Winde, Western Cape Premier Candidate has echoed these sentiments saying: “Robben Island is an important tourism icon in the Western Cape and forms an integral part of our plans to develop a Madiba heritage route in the province. I am pleased to see that Robben Island has implemented all the recommendations made in the report, and hope that they will be able to provide a safe, reliable and educational tourism experience going forward, especially as we approach the busy tourism season.”
While Robben Island has discontinued the use of the Thandi, and taken a decision not to use under 25GT vessels as passenger vessels as a precaution, the committee is concerned about the lack of legislative regulation specifically addressing the allowed number of standing and seated passengers on these vessels. SAMSA currently recommends that these vessels should be restricted in passenger numbers, however, this enabling legislation is lacking as it is merely a recommendation.
I will be writing to the National Minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande, to raise our concerns based on SAMSA’s recommendations made to our committee, and to fast track legislative certainty for under 25GT vessels. I will also raise with the Minister the severe personnel shortage within SAMSA which hampers its operational capacity in the Western Cape. Until the necessary legislation is clarified, Robben Island Museum will no longer contract small vessels under 25GT to operate as passenger vessels to Robben Island.
As the DA in the Western Cape, we remain committed to preserving, protecting, and growing our tourism sector as a vital contributor to economic growth and job creation. Making sure that we provide a world-class tourism experience to our visitors is the very least we can do to protect our tourists, preserve our national heritage, and ensure the vitality of the South African tourism industry at large.