Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) is injecting a R1 billion investment in its marine fleet renewal programme through the acquisition of seven tugboats aimed at enhancing marine operations at its commercial seaports

The seven tugboats will replace marine craft that has reached their operational lifespan at the ports of Durban and East London.

TNPA has awarded two contracts to a shipbuilding company, Damen Shipyards Cape Town, to deliver the seven tugboats from April to August 2024.

From this procured tug fleet, the Port of Durban has been allocated five tugboats and two will go to the Port of East London.

The tight delivery timeline suggests the possibility that some if not more of the tugs may come from existing stocks built elsewhere. In addition to the Cape Town yard Damen has more than 60 shipyards across the world and frequently maintains a stock of almost ready-built tugs.

What is also not known at this stage is the type of propulsion that will be installed on the latest order. Most recent orders utilised Voith Schneider propulsion.

“This investment demonstrates TNPA’s ongoing commitment in providing reliable marine craft at our South African ports, which will enable us to effectively service the marine industry and respond to global shipping demands,” said TNPA Chief Harbour Master, Captain Rufus Lekala.

The procured tugboats boast the latest hull design and propulsion, as well as a 60-ton bollard pull which is a much-needed improvement from the bollard pull of the existing older tugboats that will be replaced that ranges between 32 and 40-ton bollard pull.

The 60-ton bollard pull meets international standards and makes the craft highly manoeuvrable while guiding larger and newer vessels safely in and out of the ports.

TNPA says its marine fleet programme demonstrates a reimagined focus in ensuring that the Ports Authority delivers on its mandate of providing a competitive port system in its role as an enabler of economic growth.

The latest order for seven tugboats marks a radical departure in tugboat procurement for the TNPA, which for the past 40 or so years has placed orders almost exclusively with the Durban-based fully South African firm currently named Sandock Austral – previously Southern African Shipyards.

A seemingly unresolved dispute that arose between the two organisations before the completion of the previous order for nine tugs, saw the final vessel in that series remaining three-quarters completed but never delivered while sitting on blocks at the shipyard.

That’s a story for another day.

The most recently delivered ‘tug-type’ vessel ordered by TNPA is the plough dredger, described as a tug, and built by Damen Cape Town and delivered earlier in 2023.

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