Over the course of the last few months, I have been engaged in a number of discussions and debates on the issue of how we as a country can kickstart growth and development in the Maritime Sector. On many fronts and in the face of mounting challenge, it is clear that 2022 must now be the year of action and stakeholders will have to pull together to make it happen.

From the upcoming Mid-Term Review of the Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy driven by the Department of Transport, to the Oceans Economy Master Plans currently being finalised after an intensive 8-month process between government, labour and private sector, every challenge we need to overcome and improvement we need to introduce is being discussed, identified, defined and quantified. We know what barriers, dynamics and institutions are preventing industry progress and growth, we are aware of the levers we need to pull to unlock opportunity and we understand who needs to partner with whom in order to make it happen.

2022 has to be a year of moving from ‘talking’ to ‘walking the talk’. There is simply too much at stake: jobs to be maintained and to be created, a generation of talent to be developed, an entire industry to be rejuvenated and the reputation of South Africa as a maritime nation to be rescued.

In the face of enormous sustainability challenges and in a year where the World Maritime Day theme is ‘New technologies for greener shipping’, innovation and rethinking the way we have always done things will be key. This will be vital if we are to achieve a 1.5% annual ship carbon dioxide intensity cut between 2023 and 2026, as the International Maritime Organisation has promised. And also to unlock the economic growth opportunities in the journey towards greener energy sources whilst meeting current fuel needs. We live in an era where things change quickly and constantly; just a glance at the Energy sector and the impact of global events on supply and demand dynamics is a case in point. We have to become more adaptable.

South African port efficiency, too, is in the spotlight. For without it, our export chain falters and the knock-on effect remains significant. We simply cannot afford for the current status quo to continue. And, again, we know what the solutions are. We just need to implement them.

The future of the South Africa seafarer hangs in the balance. With a reduction in demand from global shipping lines, alternative seafarer supply nations gaining traction in this very sensitive global market and complex social dynamics not least due to COVID19, a significant step-change away from a tipping point to ensure the survival of the South African seafarer is needed now. We had an opportunity to celebrate our seafarers recently following the location of the wreck of the ‘Endurance’ in the Weddell Sea involving Master, Officers & Crew aboard the ‘SA Agulhas II’. Globally, they were in the spotlight for their skill and competence on this multinational project. And it felt really good.

This recent experience shows us that we fundamentally and collectively must shift our energy from a focus on restating problems that have been with us for, in some cases, decades – to celebrating the small and incremental improvements that will move us forward towards change and away from stasis. This is a positive shift successfully implemented by the luxury boat building industry in South Africa in recent years, which employs more than 3300 artisans and specialists and boasts a 2019 production value of R4.4 billion with full order books for the next 3 years. Proactive positioning has ensured they were well placed to take maximum advantage of the recent sector demand boom and we need to think differently to do the same for our commercial shipbuilding sector which would benefit from an agile approach to Public Private Partnerships.

But it takes leadership, determination and an unrelenting focus. It takes a voice to shout out and then listen to the echo of others standing up and doing the same. It takes competitors, in some cases, working towards common goals, government to deliberately unlock legislative constraints and finance, partnering with the private sector – and for us all to think a little differently and longer term. SMMEs are the levers for industry growth and development. Do we truly understand how best to optimise their potential?

For the thousands of men and women who derive their living from, in or on the Ocean, 2022 is crunch time. Bold decisions about investment, partnerships and longer-term strategies must be made if the sector is to remain a regional player; let alone have any chance of achieving other aspirations.

We are part of an industry that is rich with the bravery and energy of a younger generation, wise with collective and respected maturity and in the sights of those literally hungry for access.

It is time to do things differently in 2022.