Port Elizabeth – Two decades from now, it is believed that South African martime-oriented economic activities will contribute an estimated R177bn to gross domestic product.

With this in focus, a thriving maritime sector will shift the Eastern Cape into an era of prosperity. according to Mfundo Piti, Coega Development Corporation (CDC) economic infrastructure development manager.

With thousands of kilometres of coastline, South Africa is in a prime position to maximise on its “blue gold”, but none so much as the Eastern Cape, in Piti’s view.

“The Eastern Cape has two major port cities and two established industrial development zones (IDZs) enabling Nelson Mandela Bay and East London to become leading hubs of maritime economic activity,” said Piti.

The two industrial manufacturing coastal centres – with first-world components and fully serviced sites – hold several strategic competitive advantages for flagship maritime activities for the oceans economy, in Piti’s view.

“Actors in private and state sectors have already made rapid advances to harness locational advantages in the race for South Africa’s oceans economy,” said Piti.

“Government’s plans to address widespread poverty, unemployment and socio-economic inequality by building an operational, turnkey oceans economy are a welcomed relief.”

Ports have always been at the forefront of maritime economic organisation, catalysing economic growth through the trade of manufactured goods, commodities and raw materials. The Eastern Cape’s two ports have been critical for the province.

“An important indicator of burgeoning maritime-economy is the Port of Ngqura. Adjacent to the Coega IDZ, the deep-water seaport is becoming the fastest growing terminal in the world, according to Drewry Maritime Research. Seaports have helped transformed underdeveloped regions into important trade centres which in turn supports job creation,” said Piti.

Last month, the South African government announced the establishment of a National Shipping Company in partnership with South Korea. World sea traffic passes by the Eastern Cape on the East-West pendulum trade routes, opening up major opportunities for ship-building and repairs in the region.

The world merchant fleet last year comprised 106 833 vessels shipping goods and commodities between the continents, including visits to the ports of the Eastern Cape. During 2013 around 5 944 container ships, vessels and tankers were commissioned for construction by various countries.

Ship building and repair

South Africa’s ship-building industry holds international credibility with activities taking place at shipyards in Cape Town and Richards Bay.

“However, the Eastern Cape’s world-class industrial manufacturing economy will make the province an excellent contender for future shipbuilding activities in the oceans economy,” said Piti.

“Existing expertise, skilled labour, logistic services, skills related to the automotive and manufacturing industries and other ancillary services from the manufacturing industrial base will be highly attractive for domestic and foreign direct investment.”

But there’s more that can be done, in Piti’s view.

“Industrial clustering for mobility industries (air, sea and land) is an accepted form of economic organisation across the world. While Nelson Mandela Bay and East London dominate automotive manufacturing, the expertise of the industrial base should not only be extended for the ship building industries but we need to think ahead,” said Piti.

“Regional economic growth can be further augmented by aeronautical components manufacturing. The ‘sky economy’ is a unique opportunity for the province in addition to an oceans economy. An opportunity exists for us to become Africa’s mobility manufacturing industrial zone.”

Actors in state and private sector should explore this concept considering the interrelatedness of industry, he suggested.

Marine tourism

Another aspect to building an oceans economy is marine tourism.

“There is a unique opportunity for the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, the Eastern Cape department of economic development, environmental affairs and tourism and other state and private sector actors to innovate and promote the province through cruise vacations with extended land excursions,” said Piti.

Data released this year shows that the demand for the ocean crises in the world increased by 77% over the decade. The majority are 11 million American and next is European passengers.

Also, Nelson Mandela Bay is well positioned for water sports and is home to major water sports events including the Ironman on the African continent.