When it comes to ship repair and maintenance – Durban has been missing the boat.

Dormac managing director, Chris Sparg was on the quay side to watch as the company’s R300 million multi-million-rand composite floating dry dock, Dormac Dock 1, entered Durban harbour on July 17. It has been an incredible journey for him and his management team.

Watching the champagne bottle break on the side of Dormac Dock 1 during the recent official naming ceremony, was not so much the end of one journey but the beginning of another for both the company and the sector.

Although he hasn’t been at the helm throughout, Sparg was witnessing the realisation of a 16 year long dream to operate a world class dry dock facility in Durban.

The question has to be asked why it took the company (or any other investor for that matter) so long to plug a gap in a leaky business that is, amazingly enough, valued at an estimated R1-billion.

For once, a lack of know how is not a reason. As one of Africa’s largest ship repair companies and one few that is internationally recognised, Dormac specialises in repair, maintenance and conversion of all types of marine vessels through branches in Durban, Richards Bay, Cape Town, Saldanha Bay and Walvis Bay.

Dormac admits to turning away or relocating between four and seven ships wishing to undertake repair or maintenance in Durban last year.

As it is, the company has only able to dock six vessels in Durban over the past year. It serviced 20 in Cape Town and 10 of these would have preferred to come to Durban.

Problems in obtaining approvals and getting the go ahead from authorities saw the project becalmed for some time. In fact, it took until July 2014 for government to even recognise the potential payback from South Africa’s “blue” or marine economy and to fast track development through Operation Pakhisa.

Then there’s the sheer size of the investment – at R300-million, the largest ever investment by Dormac’s parent, Southey Holdings. With government seizing every opportunity to pop the commodity bubble and create jobs, R159-million in tax and skills development incentives undoubtedly softened the blow.








Catching the wave

As things stand, the market for ship repair facilities is massive. In Durban – Africa’s busiest port – demand for ship repair facilities exceeds supply seven fold.

According to Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, who officiated at the Dormac Dock 1 naming ceremony, an estimated 12 000 ships call at South Africa’s ports each year and over 30 000 vessels sail along the South African coastline annually.

A weak rand that makes local ship repair cost competitive and the fact that even more ships are sailing past South Africa to avoid the Suez Canal could increase opportunities even more.

Durban is particularly well positioned to service the growing number of oil rigs plying the East Coast of Africa. Rigs from the West Coast are already growing the Cape Town ship repair industry.

Davies quantified the potential – and that of the blue economy as a whole – when he pointed out that overall economic activities associated with South Africa’s oceans could increase GDP by between 2.5 to 3.5 times in 20 years or generate an estimated GDP contribution of between R129 and R177 billion by 2033.

During the naming, Southey Group CEO, Barry Wickens said: “This investment is a sign of our faith and confidence in the future growth and development of the Durban Port and indeed, in the economy of South Africa.

“At a time when the world economy is not in great shape and the South African economy is experiencing a zero percent growth rate, the Dormac management team has undertaken this massive R300-million investment, which will generate many additional jobs in the port, enhance the skill levels of our workforce as well as generate substantial foreign currency for the country.

“This investment is budgeted to attract substantial docking opportunities for the port of Durban and to grow the market share for the South African ship repair industry.”







Anchors aweigh for Dormac

For Dormac, the real breakthrough came in 2013 when it was informed that, on presentation of a solid business case, a mature environmental impact assessment (which took two years to fulfil) and an acceptable design, the project could go ahead.

“It was a significant step. We realised that if we didn’t take it, we would never move forward,” Sparg says.

On receiving permission to go ahead, Dormac fast tracked the project. What would have ordinarily taken around 24 months to complete took just nine months. Dormac took delivery of the dry dock a month ahead of schedule.

It took 17 days to reach Durban under tow to the tug Fairplay 33, with a nine day stop over  in Saldanha bay to avoid rough weather.

Dormac has nine ship repairs lined up for September alone and expects to add an additional 45 dockings per year going forward.

According to the Dormac management team, the rationale behind the substantial investment in Dormac Dock 1 was that it would be occupied 24/7. Given the interest from international clients so far, management is confident that it will achieve this.

“On average, a ship is required to undergo a dry-docking every five years and the ship-repair industry requires services that are flexible, efficient and considers outside influences such as cargo availability, charter pressures and the weather. The new dock vastly increases Dormac’s capacity and flexibility and will enhance the existing Port docking offering,” Sparg said.

Celebrating a maiden voyage   dormac-1

Dormac Dock 1 is the first brand new ferro concrete dock to be brought into use in Africa and the only one of its kind in South Africa. It is the first in the history of the port of Durban to be anchored alongside a specially designed 175 m quay that was constructed through removing rather than reclaiming land – 13 000 truckloads of soil to be exact.

This was done to address a major challenge – the lack of space in Durban harbour. To optimise this, Dormac created a newly hardened work area alongside the quay by covering an old derelict slipway that has not been in use for over 30 years.

To provide just some idea of the enormity of the overall engineering feat – the quay saw the construction of 176 piles. Each pile extends 22m deep, taking over seven cement trucks to fill it – that’s 1 484 cement trucks.

The new quay is almost six storeys deep. Dormac Dock 1 is permanently attached via two 32m pylons.

For those that enjoy technical data, Dormac Dock 1 is 155m long and has a ferro concrete pontoon measuring 139,5m x 32,4m with steel wing walls. It has a lifting capacity of 8500 tons and total submersion depth of 11,8m. It will be equipped with two brand new dock cranes with a capacity of 7.5 tons – the highest loading cranes found on these docks regionally.

Besides adding to Dormac’s bottom line, the new floating dock, which requires a ready supply of skilled labour, will create an additional 80 new direct jobs with spin offs to Dormac’s business partners who will also need to create additional jobs.










Heading offshore

The dry dock also created opportunities in another country desperate for offshore work and job creation opportunities – war torn Ukraine.

With government pushing local content and local manufacturing and a Durban shipyard churning out multi million rand tugs for Transnet, the question has to be why Dormac Dock 1 was built offshore.

Dormac management said ferro concrete docks require a particular design and construction methodology. Dormac itself could have fabricated a steel floating dock – but these corrode in seawater, require docking every five years and costing millions to maintain. This would have required the dock to be towed to Cape Town – the only dock in South Africa wide enough to accommodate a vessel of this size.

At this stage, South Africa does not have the technology to be able to manufacture ferro concrete docks so Dormac looked outside of the country to the only remaining, known ferro concrete dock manufacturers in the world.

It may also only be the last of its kind to reach our waters.

“The naming of the new dock – Dormac Dock 1 – indicates that this is just the beginning. In fact, Dormac’s vision is to strategically invest in this type of asset going forward,” admits Sparg.

Apparently, Dormac has “a sincere interest” in future investment in this area and has already won a bid to locate a floating dock in one of Namibia’s ports. It is also bidding for TNPA’s Saldana Bay project.



Photos supplied by Dormac