By Fiona Wakelin 


You have been CEO of the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) for 2 years now. What have been some of your major highlights?

I have served the Institute in various capacities, since 2014, when I was appointed by Mandela University, SAMSA and DHET to lead the project of securing funding and establishing SAIMI from the ground-up. Since then, the institution has experienced many highlights. However, during my tenure as CEO, there are a few highlights that I am particularly proud of, which speak to our efforts to create greater access by strengthening the maritime education and training and skills provisioning. This, we believe, will provide South African youth and women with entrepreneurial, educational and skills development opportunities across the oceans economy sector. In particular, for the past two years we have been ramping up maritime awareness creation among youth and communities who are not familiar with the ocean’s economy. SAIMI’s DIVE IN! Maritime Awareness programme moved to various digital platforms in 2020/21 to get youth interested in maritime careers and acquainted with the industry.


You became CEO just as Covid hit the globe. How has the pandemic impacted the Institute? 

SAIMI continued to deliver on our core mandate of unlocking socio-economic opportunities in the ocean’s economy by catalysing education, skills development, training, research and innovation initiatives through our collaborative partnership matrix which includes industry. . The operating environment was made more challenging because of Covid-19. A prime example is the operation of the National Seafarer Development Programme, under highly disruptive conditions in 2020. The prohibition of travel meant that some seafarers were stuck in faraway destinations amid efforts to bring them home and also presented challenges for some in taking up opportunities. With government support, efforts were made to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of existing and aspiring seafarers. SAIMI continued with efforts to ensure that institutions adapted to the new environment through adaptation to new methods which include hybrid/ online formats. 


Please describe the services SAIMI provides. How is the Institute ensuring the success of the blue economy in South Africa?

SAIMI is at the heart of South Africa’s efforts to develop relevant and adaptable skills and the requisite knowledge to transform the country’s vast maritime territory and resources into a sustainable blue economy. The national ocean economy initiatives, under the government’s Operation Phakisa programme, remain at the core of SAIMI’s strategic agenda and have been adopted as the central theme for the institute in the upcoming years in alignment with the government’s ambitions. In this role, SAIMI provides strategic implementational support to the oceans economy development programme through supporting and implementing education, skills development and research initiatives. 

SAIMI leads a partnership and collaborative stakeholder model geared towards the efficient and effective education, training and upskilling of South Africans, linking them to socio-economic opportunities and investing in new knowledge, technologies and innovations for a globally competitive South African maritime sector. SAIMI’s core functions are advocacy and the promotion of South Africa’s maritime sector, the coordination of education, skills, training, research and development, as well as to serve as the knowledge hub on maritime matters. 


Please unpack the importance of partnerships for SAIMI.

SAIMI’s partnership and collaborative stakeholder model ensures that the institute collaborates with a strong network of partners, associates and alliances to maximise resources and capacity to develop the maritime economy. SAIMI is hosted at Nelson Mandela University, and is funded by the National Skills Fund, while working nationally and globally with role players across a range of disciplines and sectors that make up the maritime economy. 

SAIMI is a multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder national institute that is supported by key public sector stakeholders such as the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), National Skills Fund (NSF), Transnet, Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic), Department of Transport (DOT), Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), Transport Education Training Authority (TETA), South African Public Colleges Organisation (SACPO) as well as industry representation from amongst others, the South African Oil & Gas Alliance (SAOGA), FishSA, South African Boat Builders Export Council (SABBEX), and Shipowners. Industry participation is at the heart of SAIMI’s efforts, as we continuously strive to address the skills supply and demand challenge. 


How has climate change affected SAIMI’s role?

One of SAIMI’s core values is Sustainability. We believe in “meeting the needs of the present without diminishing opportunities for the future”. While ocean governance and stewardship therefore are central elements intrinsic to SAIMI’s general outlook, Marine Protection and Ocean Governance is also one of the six focus areas of Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy. Marine Protection and Ocean Governance is a wide field – both geographically and academically – and a vast range of qualifications are relevant to the sector. SAIMI also annually supports a 4-week course – Ocean Governance for Africa – which is hosted by the International Ocean Institute African Region (IOI-SA). The course is aimed at strengthening multi-disciplinary ocean governance across the continent and building a network of “ocean ambassadors” equipped to contribute and promote responsible, knowledge-based ocean governance across Africa. It is a cornerstone of the Global Maritime Forum to bring together key industry leaders with policymakers, experts, NGOs and other influential decision makers and opinion shapers to develop new solutions to some of the most pressing issues that the global maritime industry is facing. 

SAIMI is part of the discussions that are taking place within the Global Maritime Forum which are focused on shipping decarbonisation. These are centred around the following action areas:

  • the maritime industry accelerating the development, testing and demonstration of the technologies and business models needed to make Zero Emission Vessels (ZEVs) the dominant, competitive choice by 2050.
  • the stakeholders across the maritime ecosystem working together to put in place a supporting policy framework to go beyond the tipping point and stimulate the diffusion of these new technologies.
  • ensuring that maritime decarbonisation is inclusive and provides real benefits for developing countries.


Other issues under consideration include, amongst others, the impact of demographic changes, digitalisation and decarbonisation on the future of seafaring.


Do you have exciting plans for the future?

A strong future focus of SAIMI is harnessing Community of Practices with industry 4.0 technological innovations to grow the maritime sector on the continent. SAIMI’s strategic focus on maritime research, development, innovation and knowledge management will ensure the future contribution of innovation to economic growth in the maritime sector. SAIMI’s Marine Robotics Centre is expected to serve as a catalyst and make a meaningful contribution in this regard. Other plans underway include:

  • The implementation of the recommendations made through the Skills Audits conducted by SAIMI (compilation of some Skills Audits is still underway;)
  • The support of Maritime Education and Training within TVETs and promoting increased participation thereof;
  • International and Industry collaborations;
  • Promoting the inclusion of new entrants – youth and women;
  • Support for enterprise development in the oceans economy;
  • Development of courses and Short Learning Programmes (SLP’s) for sustainability.



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