National Ports

In formal dining etiquette in the military, it is ‘forbidden’ to discuss politics, religion, or the opposite sex during the meal.1 In less constrained circles, it is considered poor form only to discuss these topics before the port is served. That is because port – the sweet dessert wine – always comes at the end of the meal. Accordingly, it doesn’t really matter if vociferous disagreement then breaks out, which it typically does on these topics, because the evening is almost done.

Port, of course, comes from Portugal2 and takes its name from Oporto, a city in the northwest of the country from whose harbour the wine was exported. But Oporto (and Portugal) and Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred, Port Edward, Port St Johns, Port Nolloth, and so on3 all get their name from the same thing. A portus, in Latin, means a harbour – and that Latin word had its origins in an even more ancient root meaning ‘entrance or passage’.4

Ports are vital to any country with access to the ocean, and particularly for the Republic whose economy is heavily dependent on exporting things like coal, iron ore and motor vehicles, and importing a lot of other commodities. So the efficiency and proper management of our ports – at Richards Bay, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Nqura, Mossel Bay, Saldanha Bay, Port Nolloth and Cape Town – is high priority. That is the reason for the National Ports Act 2005, which establishes the National Ports Authority (and the Ports Regulator) and which effectively administers the Act.5

A. Safety

  1. Any person who (even negligently) endangers the safety of navigation, persons or property in a port commits a criminal offence.6

  2. If you interfere with a pilot – that is, a person licensed by the National Ports Authority (and certificated by the South African Maritime Safety Authority) who must navigate every vessel entering, leaving or moving in a port – whilst a vessel is under his pilotage, you commit an offence.7

  3. The Harbour Master of any particular port is the final authority relating to pilotage, navigation, dredging, navigational aids, and all other matters relating to the movement of vessels within his port. He can give a variety of written or verbal instructions for these purposes, and it is a criminal offence to fail to comply with them.

B. Licensing

  1. It is unlawful to operate port services without a licence issued by the National Ports Authority. Port services8 are:9
    • berthing services;
    • cargo handling;
    • firefighting;
    • floating crane services;
    • radio and radar services;
    • security;
    • stevedoring;
    • storage of cargo within a port;
    • terminal operations;
    • tug services;
    • vessel repairs;
    • waste disposal.

    It is a criminal offence to provide these services without a licence (or unless a specific agreement has been entered into with the National Ports Authority).

  2. It is also an offence to operate a port facility10 without a licence.11

  3. You may not erect or operate an off-shore cargo handling facility without a licence, and commit an offence if you do so.12

  4. In order to determine whether licence conditions are being complied with, the National Ports Authority can authorise people to carry out inspections. These people can enter the premises of licensed operations at any time during office hours for such purposes. It is an offence to hinder or obstruct any such person who is carrying out a function in terms of the Act.13

  5. That inspector may require you to produce books, records, statements and documents. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with such a requirement.14

C. Confidential information

  1. It is a crime to disclose any confidential information concerning the affairs of the National Ports Authority, or any other person for that matter, which was obtained:
    • whilst carrying out a function in terms of the Act; or
    • as a result of participating in any proceedings in terms of the Act.15

D. Complaints against the National Ports Authority

The National Ports Authority is responsible for managing all ports in the Republic. But it must:

The Ports Regulator is responsible for investigating any complaints in these regards against the National Ports Authority.

  1. It is a criminal offence to hinder or obstruct any person conducting such an investigation.16

  2. The Regulator may conduct a hearing into any complaint, or any other matter referred to it. If you have been directed or summoned to appear before the Regulator, for these purposes, it is an offence if you:

    • refuse to appear;
    • refuse to be sworn in, or to make an affirmation after being directed to do so;
    • refuse or fail to answer to the best of your knowledge any question put to you; and
    • refuse to produce any book, document or item specified in the directive or summons.17
  1. – ‘Mess Etiquette and Mess Dinners’. 

  2. Actually, the upper Douro Valley in northern Portugal. 

  3. Including Port Sunlight, which is where the soap was originally manufactured. 

  4. Porta in Latin means a gate. 

  5. The National Ports Authority is a subsidiary of Transnet, and the Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Transport. 

  6. Section 87(1)a. 

  7. Section 87(1)c. 

  8. See the definition in section 1 of the Act. In addition to those I have listed there may be other services provided within a port which are designated as such by the authority, by notice in the Gazette. 

  9. Section 87(1)d read with section 59(1). 

  10. This is not defined in the Act. It will likely mean the type of thing one will expect at a harbour – dry docks, vessel repair facilities (see the definition of ‘port repair facilities’), warehouses, cold rooms, etc. 

  11. Section 87(1)d read with section 59(1). 

  12. Section 87(1)d read with section 66(1). 

  13. Section 87(1)e read with section 63(1). 

  14. Section 87(1)f read with section 63(2). 

  15. Section 87(1)d read with section 86(1). 

  16. Section 87(1)e read with section 48. 

  17. Section 87(1)b.