SAS maintains well-deserved track record for delivering a world-class service

Whether it is building a world-class naval ship, new generation tugs for Transnet, or repairing damaged tankers and fishing trawlers, Southern African Shipyards (SAS) is certainly making its mark..

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And the award-winning Durban-based black-owned company is no stranger to making maritime history either. Based in the city’s Bayhead region and dating back almost 60 years, SAS boasts the biggest shipyard in Southern Africa with a yard in the Port of Durban that is 100 000 square metres with 20 000 square metres under hook.

It has the advantage of having a privately-owned floating dock that can accommodate vessels up to 75m. And it also has access to Transnet National Ports Authority’s (TNPA) graving and floating docks.

The company will install a massive 120 ton gantry crane later this year under its shipyard revitalization programme to increase capacity by a further 250 percent. SAS has long been Africa’s leading commercial, naval, ship building and ship repair company and the ambitious chief executive, Prasheen Maharaj, and his talented team, aim to be the premier ship building and ship repair company in Africa.

SAS has a well-deserved track record for delivering a world-class service and the company has clinched many a contract for building and refitting mega luxury yachts for international clients.

Their skilled workforce has constructed utility boats and fishing trawlers as well as a total of 21 tugboats for TNPA.

In recent years, it secured the R1.4-billion contract to build nine state-of-the-art tugs for TNPA, which was the biggest single contract that TNPA had ever awarded to a South African company for building harbour craft. Described as “the Rolls Royce of tugs” by Maharaj, the tugs, which help TNPA’s marine operations speed up vessel turnaround times, boast the latest global technology, including the Voith Schneider propulsion from Germany.

This system, involving silver blades instead of the usual propellers, makes the tugs highly manoeuvrable. They are able to change direction and thrust almost instantaneously, while guiding vessels safely into South African ports.

The 31m-long tugs also have a 70 ton bollard pull, compared to the 30 tons pulls of the older fleet, with the increased pull meeting international standards.

Each tug took nine months to complete and while some 520 jobs were linked to the massive contract, another 2 500 people in associated supplier industries elsewhere around the country were also employed on the fleet.

Nico Walters, TNPA’ general manager of strategy, said at the launch of one of the tugs that SAS’s “pioneering spirit, technical expertise and impressive work” was a shining example of the potential for public private partnerships to create jobs and grow the economy.

As for Maharaj, he praised the men and women on the SAS shop floor who built the tugs from the first plate of steel cut. They were the real heroes for building such a world-class vessel, he said.

SAS has long made an effort to get women into the workplace and the company has played its part in skilling and providing job opportunities for women, as well as the youth.

With the country facing a critical shortage of technical skills as well as a rising unemployment rate, SAS responded to the challenge and has taken on boilermakers, fitters and electrician apprentices. The majority of one intake were women.

Although ship building and ship repairing is a heavy industry, women boilermakers think nothing of climbing up three flights of scaffolding carrying 40kg weights, explained Andre Boshoff, SAS’s training co-ordinator.

While the company receives some outside funding for their apprenticeship initiative, it still costs SAS more than half a million rand-the bulk of the bill-to train each boilermaker, fitter and electrician over their four-year apprenticeship.

Boshoff says that the expression on the faces of the apprentices when a new tug was launched was a picture.

“You can see in their eyes that they are really proud to have had a hand in manufacturing the latest tug,” he recalled.

SAS and the TNPA partnership duly clinched a coveted KZN Top Business Awards honour, winning the manufacturing category for developing South Africans and ultimately strengthening the nation through ship building and repair services.

The only woman ship repair project manager in Durban also works at SAS. Natashia Ramdhanee, a mother-of-one, says that people cannot believe it when she happens to mention what she does for a living. They find it hard to imagine how she ventures down dozens of steps through the darkness into the very bottom of ships, including tankers, then crawls through the various tanks to carry out inspections.

It is dangerous and disorientating work and one false step could prove deadly.

Maharaj says that the transformation of the industry and the creation of opportunities for the advancement of black women remained a core strategy for the sustainable development and the success of SAS.

SAS’s biggest headlines of course came last year when it was awarded Armscor’s prestigious “Project Hotel” tender to build a new hydrographic survey vessel and ancillary equipment for the South African Navy.

SAS is no stranger to naval work and after the shipyard was upgraded and custom-built to accommodate an extensive naval building programme several years ago, it had built six strikecraft, two minehunters, the replenishment ship, the SAS Drakensberg, and then, from 2014-2015, completed a midlife refit and double propulsion engine change-out on the navy frigate, SAS Amatola.

The company also carried out repairs and testing of mechanical, electrical and constructional equipment and systems on three naval offshore vessels, extending the lives of the 30-year-old ships by at least five years.

The first piece of steel for the new hydrographic survey ship was cut at a symbolic ceremony at the shipyard at the end of last year, when hundreds of VIPs watched the historic proceedings via a live TV feed from a nearby marquee.

The ceremony marked a “new dawn” in defence industrial development, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Mosiviwe-Noluthando Mapiso-Nqakula, told guests.

That was because it showcased the ocean economy in action as well as the advancement of black industrialists and the creation of thousands of jobs, she said.

The first piece of steel was shaped into one of the many brackets needed for the new vessel, Maharaj said later. The hydrographic vessel would eventually use some 1 900 tons of locally-procured steel.

The survey ship, which will be the most technically advanced vessel ever to be built in Africa, will replace the SA Navy’s current SAS Protea which has been in service since 1972.

Production will take some three years and will mean work for more than 500 people, including apprentices, artisans, technicians, engineering interns and engineers in different disciplines. The project will also create about 3 500 indirect jobs. Numerous procurement and subcontract opportunities will be created for SMMEs, BEE companies and military veteran-owned companies.

SAS has partnered with international company Vard Marine to develop the 95 metre-long vessel, which will be built with the help of eight subcontractors who will integrate various systems into the ship.

The vessel will have about 12.24MW diesel electric power plant and have a maximum speed of 18 knots. It will have a 10 000 nautical mile range with 44 days endurance, incorporate the latest hydrographic and oceanographic sensor suites and be manned by a total crew of 120, comprising the ships’ crew and scientists.

It will be ice-strengthened to Polar Class 7 requirements.

The minister said that the vessel will not only benefit South Africa, but would also benefit the world by contributing to safe navigation at sea. It will map large areas of the entire southern hemisphere ocean floor, making the seas safe for navigation, exploration and fishing, thus feeding the population of the continent and beyond.

The ship will boast a multi-beam echo sounder to perform seabed mapping with high resolution and accuracy to a maximum depth of 7 000m.

“We are demonstrating that we are truly an industrial powerhouse and most importantly, that the South African defence industry has the requisite capabilities and capacity,” the minister said.

Part of the preparations involved a six-month “tank test” in Holland to ensure that the ship will be able to withstand the sea conditions in the southern ocean that it will be operating in. The tests were carried out by the Maritime Research Institute of the Nederlands, which built a seven metre-long wooden scale model of the vessel, which underwent a series of tests in a 240-m long depressurized wave basin tank.

“The tests were successful. The design is superb,” said Greg Depaul, SAS’s general manager of shipbuilding, who witnessed some of the six-month tests.

The new, bigger, crane which is being installed in the SAS shipyard later this year is necessary for Project Hotel and the forward workload.

At the same time as Project Hotel is underway, SAS teams will also be working on another big, history-making contract: the manufacture of an energy barge, the first of its type in the world.

A private company, DNG Energy, which is at the forefront of the Liquefied Natural Gas revolution, has commissioned SAS to build the R700-million 143 metre-long barge , a workhorse that will operate in Southern African waters transporting energy to South African and SADC customers.

The first piece of steel for the barge was also cut at the same ceremony as the first piece of steel was cut for the hydrographic survey ship.

Aldworth Mblati, the chief executive of DNG Energy, said that he could have gone to China to have the barge built, but wanted it built at SAS as it was important to create jobs and keep the money in the country.

Maharaj pointed out that the simultaneous work on the hydrographic survey ship and the energy barge was not only a historic milestone for the South African shipbuilding industry, but also represented one of the largest job creation projects in Durban.

With the experience of having built such a technically-advanced ships, and with the aim of becoming a global force to be reckoned with, SAS is hoping to secure the intellectual rights to both mega projects.

“We are hoping to replicate them to the rest of Africa,” Maharaj explained.

SAS is also in the market for the SA Navy’s plans for three new Offshore Patrol Vessels.

In another development, SAS’s ship repair division, which had previously largely focused on big ships, is on a campaign to woo the region’s fishing industry, particularly as trawlers face a lengthy wait to get surveys carried out in Cape Town.

It is a strategy that is paying dividends and several fishing companies have already had work undertaken in Durban.

SAS is going out of its way to offer a personalised service and to make the captains and crew feel at home. Facilities are being upgraded, Wi Fi is being installed to enable them to stay in touch with their friends and families-and the coffee pot is always on.

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