Merchant Shipping

Not everyone has been on a cruise, but most of us have probably stopped to wonder how all the cars, buses, lawnmowers, fridges, hifis, computers and most other household appliances that we use find their way here from the factories in Europe, America and Asia.

Well, they are imported, yes, but not in aeroplanes or trains or trucks. In boxes, packed tightly in containers stacked on ships, these goods spend weeks at sea – as do the ship’s crew.

The Merchant Shipping Act 1951 makes provision for anything and everything to do with this world of shipping – registering of ships, employment and living conditions for seamen, safety, accidents, navigation and even courts of enquiry.

Accordingly, the Act sets out a huge variety of duties and obligations upon ship owners, masters, captains, crew members and even passengers. ‘Merchant shippers’ are also those who take holiday-makers on cruises – and the Act applies to them as well.

Many of the duties and obligations are esoteric in their application and so beyond the scope of this book. However, there are some noteworthy provisions. There is a general stipulation which makes it an offence to contravene or fail to comply with any provision of the Act, so it is worth repeating that failure to comply with any of what is set out hereunder is a crime.

A. The authority and administration of the Act

  1. Any officer appointed under the auspices of the South African Maritime Safety Authority has the power to board any South African ship anywhere, or any ship in South African waters,1 to inspect it; or its log books; or any documentation; to muster the crew and interrogate them (including under oath); and, to enter any premises or vehicle or vessel for the same purposes. It is an offence to refuse to assist such an officer if requested.2

  2. It is also an offence to refuse to answer an officer’s questions, or to give him false information.

  3. Any radio officer or operator who divulges any information he acquires by virtue of his employment commits an offence.3

  4. It is an offence to bribe any person in respect of the performance or non-performance of his duties or exercise of his powers under the Act.4

  5. It is an offence to agree with, or even propose to any person to do something in contravention of the Act.5

  6. It is a criminal offence to do any of the following:
    • damage, destroy, conceal or dispose of any vessel or goods to prevent their detention, forfeiture or seizure under the Act;6
    • rescue, damage or destroy any vessel or goods detained, forfeited or seized under this Act;7
    • receive or possess any vessel or goods forfeited under the Act;8
    • insult, resist, hinder or mislead any person in the discharge of his duty, the exercise of his powers or the performance of a function under the Act;9
    • refuse or fail to give all reasonable assistance, when called upon to do so, to any such person or a court;10
    • hinder or prevent anyone from assisting any such person or court in the discharge of duties, or the exercise of powers under the Act;11
    • hinder or prevent any witness from attending a hearing in obedience to any summons issued under the Act;12 or
    • hinder or prevent the service of any document under the Act.13
  7. It is an offence to obstruct or damage any equipment of any ship, or obstruct, impede or molest any of the crew in the navigation and management of the ship or otherwise in the execution of their duties about the ship.14

B. Ship integrity and safety on board

  1. No vessel of less than three metres in length may go to sea.15

  2. If three or more seamen complain to the ‘proper officer’ (designated by the Authority – usually the officer in charge at the port) about the water provisions, accommodation, or other living conditions it must be investigated. If it is found that the complaint is valid, the ship must be detained until the conditions are rectified by the master of the ship.16

  3. No person shall take a South African ship to sea, or any foreign ship from a South African port, unless it has the correct and appropriate safety certificate, and the correct and appropriate load line certificate.17

  4. It is an offence to conceal, remove, alter or obliterate the load line or any other mark placed on a ship in terms of the Act.18

  5. The master shall not allow the ship to be loaded so that the load line submerges.19

  6. The master must ensure that all compasses on the ship are regularly and properly calibrated.20

  7. The owner and master of a ship going to sea must ensure that it has the correct number and description of officers and crewmen as prescribed for that ship.21

  8. The master of a vessel commits an offence if he permits more people to be on board than the number permitted in the safety certificate.22

  9. No person may send or carry by ship any dangerous goods.23

  10. If any grain is to be loaded, the owner, master or the agent responsible for the loading must take all precautions to prevent the grain from shifting.24

  11. If the ship is loaded with grain outside the Republic, and those precautions were not taken, the owner or master of the ship commits an offence if the ship enters any port in the Republic (so laden).25

  12. If timber is loaded as cargo on deck, it is an offence to proceed to sea without a certificate from a surveyor who has inspected the load and is satisfied that the ship is suitable for carriage of deck cargoes of timber, and that the timber is properly stowed and secured.26

  13. No package or object weighing more than 1000 kgs may be consigned to be loaded, or loaded, unless the weight is clearly and permanently marked on its outsides.27

  14. It is a crime to use any distress signal, except in the circumstances prescribed for that signal. It is also an offence to use a signal which is likely to be mistaken for a distress signal.28

  15. The Master commits a crime if, when ice is reported on or near his course, at night, he does not proceed at moderate speed, or change course to keep well clear of the area of danger.29

  16. No person may permit any ship to leave port in an unseaworthy state.30

  17. It is a criminal offence, if warned by the master or any other person employed in a passenger ship, to molest or continue to molest any passenger on the ship.31

C. Cadets and seamen

  1. The employment on board of any person under the age of 15, in any capacity, is prohibited.32

  2. No person under 16 may be employed as a cadet, (i.e. an apprentice) on board any South African ship,33 and it is anyway an offence for more cadets to be employed on board than permitted by regulation.34

  3. No person may be employed as a cadet, or an apprentice-officer, until he has passed certain vision tests, and has been certified as physically fit for sea service.35

  4. A specimen of the Agreement of Service of cadets and seamen must be framed and displayed at a conspicuous place on board the ship (accessible to the crew) at the beginning of every voyage.36

  5. No person may solicit a seaman to become a lodger at any house, within 24 hours of the arrival of any ship, or 24 hours before its departure.37

  6. If any person is given money or property belonging to a seamen (e.g. for safekeeping) it must be returned on demand.38

  7. No seaman39 shall do anything likely to cause damage to the ship or danger to life on board or injury to anyone on board.40

  8. No seaman shall report for duty in a drunk condition, or be drunk on board.41

  9. No seaman shall disobey any lawful command, neglect his duty, assault the master or ship’s officer, or hinder the loading, unloading and departure of the ship.42

  10. No seaman shall desert the ship.43

  11. It is an offence to cause a seaman to be left behind.44

D. The ship’s master

  1. The master must, at least once in every ten days when the ship is at sea, inspect the food and water provisions.45

  2. The master must ensure that there is an adequate supply of medicines, appliances and first aid equipment.46

  3. The master must keep a log book, with details of all offences, deaths, births, marriages, injuries, accidents, or collisions at sea.47

  4. He must also, within 24 hours after the ship has arrived in port, report any casualty resulting in death or serious injury.48

  5. The master must cause printed notices to be displayed, in ample quantities, which will enable passengers to find out the position of life jackets, life-boats, fire fighting apparatus, etc. as well as a notice in each cabin demonstrating the method of fitting and adjusting life jackets.49

  6. The master of every passenger ship must cause boat drill and fire drill to be practised at least once a week.50

E. Forgery of documentation

  1. It is a criminal offence51 to do any of the following:
    • forge any document issued under the Act;
    • make any false representation or statement concerning, in any way, any document under the Act;
    • make any false representation to induce any person to do any act which he is authorised to do;
    • present any forged document, or one which contains false information;
    • produce or use any document which has been cancelled, suspended, or is expired, or to which he is not entitled;
    • lend a document to, or allow any document to be used by, any person not entitled thereto.

F. Stowaways

  1. It is a crime to go to sea in a ship without the consent of the owner, master, ship’s officer or some other person entitled to give that consent.52

  2. It is also a crime to hide for the purpose of going to sea without that consent.53

  3. It is an offence to go on board any ship which is about to arrive, or is arriving or has arrived in the Republic, without the permission of the owner or master.54

  4. It is an offence to remain on board any such ship at a port in the Republic, after being required to leave by the owner, master, or by a police officer, an officer of customs or the proper officer.55

  5. The master of the ship shall report all stowaways, in writing, to the officer of the Authority in charge of the port of arrival as soon as practicable.56

G. Passengers when refused admission

  1. Any person who goes on board a passenger ship after he has been refused admission, on account of being drunk or disorderly, and has received or been tendered a refund of his fare, commits a criminal offence.57

  2. It is also a crime if, on account of being drunk or disorderly on board any passenger ship, he has been requested by the master (or any other person employed in the ship) to leave the ship at any place in the Republic at which he can conveniently do so, and if he has received or been tendered a refund of his fare he refuses or fails to comply with the request.58

  3. It is against the law if:

    • having been refused admission to a passenger ship on account of the ship being full, and having received or been tendered a refund of your fare, you nevertheless go on board the ship;59 or
    • having gone on board a passenger ship at any place in the Republic, you have been requested, on account of the ship being full, to quit the ship before it has left that place, and you have received or been tendered a refund of your fare, but refuse or fail to comply with the request.60

H. Passenger fares

  1. It is an offence to travel in any passenger ship without first paying your fare, with intent to evade payment.61

  2. It is also an offence if any passenger has paid his fare for a certain distance, and knowingly proceeds beyond that distance without first paying the additional fare and with intent to evade payment thereof.62

  3. If a passenger arrives at a place to which he has paid his fare, he commits an offence if he refuses or fails to leave the ship.63

  4. It is even an offence, whilst on board, to refuse either to pay the fare or exhibit the ticket or other document showing payment of the fare.64

  5. Lastly, if you are on board a passenger ship, and are requested by the master or any other person employed in the ship to furnish your name and address, you commit an offence if you refuse or fail to comply with the request, or if you furnish a false name or address.65

  1. See the Chapter on ‘Marine Traffic’ for this meaning. 

  2. Section 9 read with section 312. 

  3. Section 222(2). 

  4. Section 314(a). 

  5. Section 314(b). 

  6. Section 316(a). 

  7. Section 316(b). 

  8. Section 316(d). 

  9. Section 316(f). 

  10. Section 316(f). 

  11. Section 316(f). 

  12. Section 316(g). 

  13. Section 316(h). 

  14. Section 320. 

  15. Section 72A(1). 

  16. Section162(1), (2) and (3). 

  17. Section 200 and section 212. 

  18. Section 213(2). 

  19. Section 214(1). 

  20. Section 228(1). 

  21. Section 221 (1). 

  22. Section 201. 

  23. Section 235(1). 

  24. Section 236(1). 

  25. Section 236(2). 

  26. Section 237(1). 

  27. Section 238. 

  28. Section 232(1). 

  29. Section 250. 

  30. Section 240. 

  31. Section 319(1)(c). 

  32. Section 110. 

  33. Section 90. 

  34. Section 91. 

  35. Section 92. 

  36. Section 109. 

  37. Section 173(a). 

  38. Section 172. 

  39. A stowaway (see section F) is deemed to be a seaman for the purposes of all obligations and conditions of employment whilst on board. 

  40. Section 174(1)(a). 

  41. Section 174(2)(a). 

  42. Sections 174(2)(b), 174(2)(e) and 174(2)(f). 

  43. Section 175(1). 

  44. Section 118. 

  45. Section 164. 

  46. Section 167. 

  47. Section 183. 

  48. Section 259(1)(c). 

  49. Section 225(1). 

  50. Section 233. 

  51. Section 315. 

  52. Section 317(1). 

  53. Section 317(1). 

  54. Section 318(a). 

  55. Section 318(b). 

  56. Section 317(4). 

  57. Section 319(1)(a). 

  58. Section 319(1)(b). 

  59. Section 319(1)(d). 

  60. Section 319(1)(e). 

  61. Section 319(1)(f). 

  62. Section 319(1)(g). 

  63. Section 319(1)(h). 

  64. Section 319(1)(i). 

  65. Section 318(1)(j).