Africa – the last maritime frontier

Africa – the last maritime frontier

3 min read

12 Jul 2017


Marianne Alfsen



3 min read

12 Jul 2017


Marianne Alfsen



The blue economy in Africa remains largely underdeveloped. Harnessing its massive potential is essential to foster sustainable economic development, create jobs, and provide transport to a growing population. The key is to develop local maritime expertise.

“Africa is the last undeveloped maritime frontier. The continent has never fully harnessed its ocean potential, instead it has concentrated on its terrestrial resources,” says Greg Davids, Wärtsilä’s Business Development Partner in South Africa.

At one of the Ocean Industry Podium events during Nor-Shipping 2017, he told a responsive audience how Wärtsilä is supporting and enabling the emerging African maritime industry to unlock its potential.

Status quo

The existing blue economy in Africa comprises mainly fishing, as well as some offshore mining. Goods and people are mostly transported by road and rail, and there are only three or four shipbuilding yards and around 30 ship repair facilities across the entire continent.

“South Africa alone has 3500 kilometres of largely underdeveloped coastline. Annually, 60,000 international vessels pass our shores, but we do not have enough facilities or the necessary skills to take advantage of the opportunity this passing trade offers, not enough infrastructure at our ports, and too few large dry docks to undertake the required repairs and maintenance,” explains Davids, adding that:

“Developing a sea transport infrastructure for goods and people and new job opportunities in a blue economy is critical to sustain the continent as the population grows.”

High on the agenda

During the past few years, things have begun to stir. In January 2014, the African Union adopted an Integrated Maritime Strategy, aimed at developing a sustainable blue economy across the continent by 2050.

South Africa has picked up the gauntlet, taking the lead by committing to develop a domestic maritime industry by 2030 that authorities estimate potentially is worth 177 billion rand annually (almost USD 14 billion).

In November 2014, South Africa launched the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), to facilitate developing the skills to meet the blue shift.

Education first

Engaging with maritime authorities, educational institutions and the emerging maritime industry, Wärtsilä has been committed to unlocking this largely untapped market since 2011.

“Wärtsilä has more than 180 years of experience to bring to the table,” says Davids.

“Everything starts with education,” he continues, pointing out that African nations do not need more people telling them what to do and how to do it.

“We need our own know-how, in order to make informed decisions and responsible choices.”

Designed for African conditions

Until recently, African students had to leave the continent to pursue a maritime education – returning with knowledge that was not always in tune with local needs. Africa has thus neither been able to export its own expertise to the rest of the world.

“The result is that the majority of vessels trafficking our shores are not designed for Southern Ocean conditions, and are thus not performing optimally or with the best fuel and operational flexibility,” explains Davids. His vision for the African blue economy is to develop a naval architecture industry that can design and build vessels in Africa for African conditions, vessels that may foster new fishing opportunities, and support services, compliances, and requirements for the continent.

Supporting education

Wärtsilä has partnered with the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) to develop degree courses in marine engineering and other local maritime skills. In December 2014, Wärtsilä donated an 8-cylinder in-line Wärtsilä 20 engine to the NMU School of Engineering.

Since then, NMU has become the first university in Africa offering specialized marine engineering degrees, tuned in to local needs.

“Now, Wärtsilä has partnered with NMU to develop the first marine engineering laboratory in Africa, to be opened in 2018,” notes Davids, who is also an Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Engineering, the Built Environment & IT at the NMU.

Foreign investments

In addition to a series of Africa-related talks at the Ocean Industry Podiums at Nor-Shipping in Norway this year, the trade fair also featured a dedicated Africa pavilion for the first time.

“Such events provide a global platform where common minded players can meet to share ideas and pool our resources. For developing economies in particular, such platforms are essential,” says Davids says, adding that although Africa wants to find its own sea legs, it needs the assistance of the international community, in the form of knowledge transfer, partnerships and investments.