building and ship repair has a long history in Durban and
has been a substantial contributor to the local economy
over the years.
people would probably guess that the first ship was built
in Durban in the 1800s after a permanent settlement was
established. In fact, and you can use this to amaze people
at parties, the first ship we know about was built in 1685.
vessel called the Good Hope was wrecked off Durban and the
sailors came ashore and made their home on the Bluff. They
later linked up with other sailors, who had been wrecked
on the Bonaventura and the Stavenisse, and one of them managed
to make a hammer and a saw out of metal from one of the
sailors then built a ship called the Centaur and, after
loading her to the brim with provisions, they sailed her
to safety in Cape Town. The authorities, impressed with
the quality of this first Durban-built vessel, bought her
for a handsome sum.
repair could have an ever longer history in Durban because
it is believed that the ancient Phoenicians sailed down
this coast and may well have taken advantage of our sheltered
bay to mend their ships. Durban was an extremely important
ship repair facility during both world wars and played a
vital role in the allied war effort.
ships have been built in Durban since 2003 and, although
ship repair is still pretty big business, the industry has
stagnated a bit in recent years. Being very interested in
the harbour, which I always think of as the heart of Durban,
I thought I'd do a quick survey to see what the current
situation is with these two important industries.
first stop was at Elgin Brown and Hamer at Bayhead, where
I spoke to MD Rob Deane to get his take on the situation.
He confirmed my initial impression by saying that his company
was experiencing a reasonable flow of work including some
major jobs coming as the result of accidents and disasters
believes, however, that the ship repair industry is not
operating at its maximum potential and that this is mainly
due to constraints imposed by the National Port Authority's
(NPA) ownership of the dry dock facilities which his company
and others depends on to carry out major repairs which,
in E,B&H's case, cannot be completed in their own floating
told me that the charges levied by the NPA are considerably
higher than those of similar facilities overseas and that
this discourages many ship owners from having their vessels
repaired here. He said that it was unusual for ship repairers
not to be the owners of the repair facilities and that this
had led to the higher charges.
said he quite understood that the NPA could not be expected
to run its facilities at a loss, or on a break-even basis,
but that their profit margin drove up the overall costs.
In the case where a ship repairer was making a profit on
repair work, it could afford to charge less for the use
of the repair facilities.
constraint for the industry is the continuing uncertainty
over plans to expand the facilities in the Port of Durban
which makes repairers unwilling to make new investments
in buildings and equipment. One of the expansion plans currently
being discussed, for example, is to extend the port's container
handling capacity by digging out new quays at Bayhead.
land which would be effected by the dig out is occupied
in part by Elgin Brown & Hamer who have it on a long
lease. Uncertainty around this and other issues is having
a negative effect on the industry, but Deane remains hopeful
that things will improve markedly if agreement can quickly
be reached over the ownership of the repair facilities and
on the expansion plans for the port.
believes that a window of opportunity is opening for Durban
in the shipbuilding and repair industries due to the fact
that orders for new vessels are outpacing the capacity of
shipyards around the world to supply them.
African Shipyards (SAS) MD Louis Gontier echoes the positive
outlook for shipbuilding and says that the industry could
be set to boom in Durban. After a gap of three years during
which no ships were built in Durban, he says that his company
now has a trawler under construction in their yards and
will most likely build two large barges before the end of
company has also partnered in a joint venture with Dutch
firm Damen and will be building and commissioning two tugs
for the NPA. They will soon commission a small slipway which
will allow them to launch and dock vessels of under 500
tons and are in discussions to re-commission the old slipway
on their property, which will allow the launch of vessels
up to 140m long.
told me that he had recently attended a Shipping Exhibition
in Germany as part of a team, including government, which
showcased KZN as a shipbuilding cluster. He said that foreign
firms had showed great interest in having ships built in
Durban and that SAS was quoting on large projects including
the building of offshore supply vessels, large yachts and
said that offset requirements for some overseas firms, and
the devaluing rand, was helping to make South Africa competitive,
once again, as a builder of ships. He said that the benefits
to the local economy could be enormous, with every job in
created in shipbuilding leading to the creation of eight
other jobs downstream.