April 21, 2020


A merchant ship, merchant vessel, trading vessel, or merchantman is a water craft that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire. This contrasts with pleasure crafts, which are used for personal recreation, and naval ships, which are used for military purposes. Considering the important function of merchant ships, there is a need for the regulation of such transportation.

In 2017, the Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy (“CMTP”) was approved as an all-encompassing policy to guide the integrated governance, regulation and development of the ocean economy, and in particular the maritime transportation in South Africa. The Merchant Shipping Bill aligns with the shipping provisions of the CMTP. The draft Merchant Shipping Bill was presented and discussed in stakeholders meetings convened nationally by the Department of Transport during 2018 and 2019. The Bill was tabled and approved by the Director Generals Cluster of International Co-operation, Trade and Security Cluster and the Economic Cluster.

The Merchant Shipping Bill will be amended to give effect to the vision of government to revive the maritime transport sector and enhance its contribution to the growth and radical transformation of the South African economy. The Merchant Shipping Bill aims to:

- provide for the powers and duties of the Minister and the South African Maritime Safety Authority in the administration of the Merchant Shipping Act;

- provide for the registration and licensing of ships in the Republic of South Africa;

- provide for the application of the prevailing labour laws to seafarers, the conditions of  employment of seafarers and the health and well-being of seafarers on board vessels;

- promote the safety of life at sea and to establish inspection and enforcement mechanisms including those for marine casualties and crimes committed on ships;

- provide for the regulation of marine traffic and for legal proceedings and jurisdictional matters;

- recognise and incorporate international conventions to which the Republic of South Africa is:

o  bound in terms of the provisions of the Constitution and its incorporation into

o  domestic law in terms of laws repealed by the Merchant Shipping Act.


Once approved the bill will amend and repeal several related marine laws including the following:  

·      repeal the whole Merchant Shipping Act, 1951;

·      repeal the whole Marine Traffic Act, 1981;

·      repeal the whole Ship Registration Act, 1998;

·      amend Section 1 of the National Ports Act, 2005;

·      repeal Annexure 1 of the Ports Rules Notice No. 255 of 06 March 2009.

The Merchant Shipping Bill, 2020 was published in the ordinary gazette on Friday, 06 March 2020. All Interested persons were requested to submit their written comments in connection with the draft, Merchant Shipping Bill, 2020 within 60 days (i.e by 05 May 2020) from the date of the publication of that notice in the Government Gazette. Stakeholder and public meetings in this regard were scheduled to be held in March 2020, however had to be postponed due to the lockdown regulations precipitated by the coronavirus epidemic. It is therefore possible that the deadline of 05 May 2020 may be extended.