The first of Transnet National Ports Authority’s nine new, powerful tugboats set sail from the Durban premises of contractor, Southern African Shipyards, on Saturday, 2 April and arrived in its home of Port Elizabeth in the early hours of Monday, 4 April.

The tug was ceremonially launched as MVEZO last October in honour of the small village where former President, the late Nelson Mandela, was born.

“MVEZO will assist in bolstering the efficiency of our port’s marine operations. She will be the first of two new large, powerful tugs planned for our fleet as part of this large-scale contract,” he added.

The nine-tug contract – valued at R1.4 billion – is the largest single contract TNPA has ever awarded to a South African company for the building of harbour craft.

TNPA Chief Executive, Richard Vallihu, said after the tug’s ceremonial launch last year: “The building of MVEZO and the eight other tugs in this project, demonstrates that this country has the expertise to compete in the global shipbuilding industry and to use the maritime economy to unlock the economic potential of South Africa, in line with the government’s Operation Phakisa initiative.”

MVEZO’s arrival at the Port of Port Elizabeth will be marked with an official handover ceremony in the coming weeks.

Thereafter there will be handovers every three months until the last tug is launched in early 2018.

Two tugs each will be allocated to the Ports of Durban, Richards Bay and Port Elizabeth, while Saldanha, which handles the largest carriers, would receive three tugs.

The tug building project kicked off in August 2014 and is providing a big boost to the local economy over its 42 month lifespan. Given the project’s tight deadlines, five tugs are under construction simultaneously at any given time.

TNPA programme manager Eugene Rappetti, Senior Manager for Marine Operations, said TNPA had 29 tugs in service nationally at present. But the requirement for bigger, strong tugboat fleets had increased in line with bigger commercial vessels calling at South African ports more frequently.

“TNPA’s new fleet will include nine tugs that are 31 metres long with a 70 ton bollard pull. The older tugs have 32.5 to 40 ton pulls. “The increased bollard pull of these new generation tugs meets international standards and they also feature the latest global technology. The tugs have Voith Scheider propulsion which makes them highly manoeuvrable and able to change the direction and thrust almost instantaneously while guiding large vessels safely into our ports,” he said.

Durban based Southern African Shipyards, which owns and operates the largest shipyard in Southern Africa, also built TNPA’s previous 12 tugs.

Subcontractors on the project include well-known multi-nationals such as Barloworld Equipment, Siemens, Voith Schneider, as well as local contractors such as Bradgary Marine Shopfitters.

CEO Maharaj said his company had created 500 direct and 3 500 indirect jobs through the project. “We have also committed to ensuring that each tug has a minimum of 60% locally manufactured components. We have partnered with international companies on the remaining aspects that cannot be manufactured here, for example the engines and propulsion units,” he said.