Operation Phakisa in action is how the Transnet National Port Authority’s chief operations officer, Phyllis Difeto, described the Osprey.

As the bubbly broke across the bow of the fourth new generation tug to take to the water in Durban, both the public and private sector celebrated the fact that the largest ever contract awarded to a South African company for the building of harbour craft was well on its way to being delivered on time and within budget.

Even more importantly, tugs like the Osprey are proof that local manufacturers can shape up and deliver vessels of international standard.

This is central to Operation Phakisa, a fast results delivery programme launched by government in July 2014 to help implement the National Development Plan and boost economic growth. It put the untapped ocean economy, which apparently has the potential to contribute up to R177-billion rand to GDP and create just over one million jobs by 2033, on the radar.

The ship building and ship repair sector is central to this.

The Osprey is the fourth new generation tug to roll off the production line at Southern African Shipyards in South Durban. After testing, it will be delivered to the port of Saldanha in December.

The first two tugs built at the same local shipyard – the Mvezo and Qunu – have been delivered to Port Elizabeth. A third, the Cormorant, arrived in Saldanha in August.

CEO of Southern African Shipyards, Prasheen Maharaj, said that his company had reached the half way mark in its R1.4-billion contract to supply nine new tugs to the TNPA with the launching of the Osprey.

These are expected to help improve efficiencies in South African ports where ever larger vessels are calling more often, Difeto explained.

Each of the new TNPA tugs is 31m long with a 70 ton bollard pull as opposed to the existing fleet of 29 tugs which have 32.5 to 40 ton pulls.

The increased bollard pull of these new generation tugs meets international standards. They also feature the latest global technology such as Voith Scheider propulsion which makes them highly manoeuvrable and able to change direction and thrust almost instantaneously while guiding large vessels into port.

The nine tugs will be built over a three and a half year period as part of a wider fleet replacement programme that covers tugs, new dredging vessels and new port helicopters. The programme forms part of TNPA’s R56-billion portion of Transnet’s overall R300-billion Market Demand Strategy.

Five tugs are under construction simultaneously at any given time due to the project’s tight deadlines.

Difeto said that the ports of Durban and Richards Bay would be the recipients of the next four tugs to be completed. These will be delivered at three monthly intervals with the last tug likely to be delivered in early 2018.

Maharaj said the Osprey was tangible proof that South African shipbuilders could deliver technologically advanced, world class products.

Each tug, valued at approximately R161-million, creates an estimated 500 direct jobs and an estimated 2 500 indirect jobs. Local content which extends from South African steel to high tech equipment has been sourced from almost every province in the country.

Maharaj said he hoped that the Osprey and her predecessors would inspire other parastatals to support the local ship building industry.

TNPA CEO, Richard Vallihu, who could not attend the ceremony, said in a statement that the work of Southern African Shipyards had helped cement the marine ship building and support industry.

“Having a local manufacturer also promises excellent after-sales support for the 35-year service life of these vessels. Local ship building expertise is exactly what the government’s Operation Phakisa initiatives aim to leverage in unlocking the potential of the ocean economy,” he said.