NATIONAL NEWS - The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) announced this week that it is making a significant investment in a new generation of world-class rescue vessels.
The innovative French-designed Offshore Rescue Craft (ORC) will take the NSRI’s crew safety and marine rescue capability to a new level. It is envisaged that over R180-million will be spent on nine ORCs over a 10 year period.
This investment will see the first fully South African-built offshore search and rescue craft being put together by local hands. It is a boost for what was once a thriving South African boat-building industry.
Each vessel costs an estimated R20-million and represents a game-changing moment for saving lives, said the NSRI.
“To continue to deliver a world-class rescue service in South Africa, the NSRI are investing in modern, high-tech rescue crafts that will save even more lives on South African waters,” said Dr. Cleeve Robertson, NSRI CEO.
The new self-righting and purpose-built rescue vessel is designed for rescue operations in extreme conditions. At 14.8m long and 4.8m wide, it can be deployed on rescue missions as far as 50 nautical miles from land. It has an expected lifespan of at least 40 years.
The current fleet of all-weather lifeboats was built between 1983 and 1986.
In 2014 the NSRI started its fleet modernization process to replace these ageing vessels.
After extensive research and collaboration around the world, the ORC was found to be perfectly suited to our local conditions.
Once testing and sea trials confirmed the suitability of the craft, the first ORC purchase was complete directly from the French boatyard in 2019. A second ORC was commissioned for partial build in South Africa. Both were shipped to Cape Town on a Safmarine vessel at no charge.
Now named the Alick Rennie, the first ORC entered service in June 2019, at Station 5 in Durban, the busiest port in Southern Africa.
The second vessel, which was imported as “hull, deck and bulkheads”, is currently completing final production in Cape Town, where training and skill development are important to enable local production of the third (and future) ORCs.
Named the Donna Nicholas, the second vessel is destined for service at Station 10 in Simon’s Town.
The NSRI’s third ORC – also currently in production in Cape Town – will be the first ORC built entirely in South Africa, by South Africans, creating employment and developing new skills.
“Our fleet replacement programme will see the entire NSRI all-weather search and rescue fleet replaced with the new vessel over about 10 years, allowing for increased operational capability,” said Robertson.
“It is also our vision to support local people and local industries by having our rescue boats built in South Africa.”
The NSRI partnered with South African-owned Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing to complete the manufacture of the second boat and all future vessels.
Mark Delany, managing director of Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing, said the company is a proud supporter of the NSRI, and this collaboration is simply the next step in a long-running relationship.
“We are excited to partner with the NSRI in building the new fleet of search and rescue vessels,” Delany said.
“Not only does this support an organisation which provides an invaluable service to all South Africans who use the sea and inland waters, but by building these vessels in South Africa, this project supports local industry and job creation.
“What’s more, the project will develop skills in the boat-building industry, most notably the specialisation of composite offshore search and rescue craft building,” he said.
Invested in safety and longevity
Construction on the first fully local vessel began a few months ago. It is expected to be delivered in early 2021 and will be able to accommodate six volunteer rescuers on board, in shock mitigating seats to allow for high-speed operation in difficult sea conditions, and has the ability to carry up to 23 survivors.
“Although most rescues are coastal and inshore, an increasing number of our operations require search and rescue vessels with extended range and advanced capability in safety and technology,” said Dr. Robertson.
“As the only maritime rescue service operating in Southern African waters, we needed to make this investment to ensure all-round safety for the crew and those being rescued.”
With crew and casualty safety a top priority, the new rescue boats will have the latest electronic navigation and communication equipment. They are also self-righting, which provides increased safety for those on board.
“We see this investment in the new rescue craft as a concrete response to the need to modernise our fleet to execute search and rescue missions including deep-sea operations, medical evacuations and mass rescue incidents along South Africa’s coastline.”
Robertson also cited the additional impact on South Africa’s maritime economy.
“Our new vessels will be a safety net for a range of industries such as tourism, fishing and water-based recreational industries. Not only will they improve safety, but the fact that we are investing and assembling locally also presents an opportunity for the maritime boat-building industry.”
Whilst it provides a critical service to the general public, the NSRI also supports South Africa’s national institutions to fulfil their mandates in maritime rescue. For example, all coastal airports must be supported by a maritime rescue service to comply with international aviation law. The NSRI is that partner in SA.
The NSRI is entirely funded by donations, receives limited government support and is the only national organization delivering coastal rescue services.
“This is a huge investment for a non-profit organisation, but it had to be done. The risk of lost lives, of our crews and those stranded at sea, is more than worth it. Our coastline is busy, and the people who make our blue economy thrive deserve to be protected.
“From a people’s point of view, this is also a vessel that will provide the best level of safety to our crews and enable us to deliver services in a really safe environment. Our commitment to our volunteer crew is to provide top class rescue boats that are suited to the severe conditions in which we operate.” said Dr. Robertson.
The NSRI’s 1 500 strong rescue crew are all unpaid volunteers, who are on call day and night throughout the year.
The NSRI is inviting all South Africans to assist in funding the new ORCs.
“We are appealing for donations from as many people as possible – that way we will ensure that our rescue craft and services touch the lives of all South Africans. To donate to the ORC project, go to NSRI.
“We also invite South Africans to follow the fascinating story of our journey as the new vessels come out of the mould and make their appearance at bases along the country’s coastline,” he concluded.