New economic opportunities as East London reopens drydock after R60m upgrade

The Port of East London’s Princess Elizabeth Drydock has been reopened.
The Port of East London’s Princess Elizabeth Drydock has been reopened.
Image: SUPPLIED
Image: SUPPLIED

The Port of East London’s Princess Elizabeth Drydock has been reopened after the completion of its major refurbishment, paving the way for new economic opportunity in the region.

Authorities believe the completion of two priority capital projects will usher in a new era of optimised growth for the historic facility.

East London was previously identified by the Operation Phakisa ocean economy strategy as having significant potential and capacity to become one of South Africa’s premier boat building and ship repair nodes.

East London is uniquely positioned within the South African port system to facilitate and accelerate both ship repair and boat building operations

The two projects – refurbishment of the dry dock’s main shut-off valves, and rehabilitation of the caisson gate – successfully position the port not only to start leveraging its facilities and capacities, but also to draw on the expertise and skill sets of the local community to develop the ship repair industry in the region.

“East London is uniquely positioned within the South African port system to facilitate and accelerate both ship repair and boat building operations,” said port manager Sharon Sijako.

“We have sufficient capacity to offer to the industry, and having newly modernised and upgraded our facilities, we are on track to start writing an exciting new chapter in the ocean economy story.”

Authorities said the revitalisation of the drydock unlocks significant economic opportunity for the region.

“The eastern half of the Eastern Cape remains one of the most marginalised and under-developed regions in South Africa,” said Sijako.

We have a responsibility to leverage the full extent of our resources and facilities to enable growth, development and, crucially, job creation.

“As the local port authority, we have a responsibility to leverage the full extent of our resources and facilities to enable growth, development and, crucially, job creation in the communities we serve.”

Officials hoped that a revitalised drydock will create significant downstream economic activity benefitting local engineers, artisans, suppliers and services SMMEs.

Local leisure and hospitalities businesses also stand to benefit, as ship repair and boat building activities traditionally attract large teams of specialist contract workers.

The refurbished drydock has already received its first customer, and is this week preparing for the docking of its second – the TNPA tug, Orca, which has arrived from the Port of Ngqura for a regulatory bi-annual lay-up.

​A R46-million project to refurbish the caisson gate addressed corrosion and leaks, successfully eliminated potential safety and operational risks and resulted in an improvement in the overall operational efficiency at the facility.

The project included design, fabrication and installation of steel plates on the main deck and outer shell, corrosion protection, replacement of anodes and D-fenders and installation of air pipes.

The final phase of the project, which was completed in September, saw the installation of the remaining seals, along with new valves. At the peak of the project almost 100 workers were employed on site

Durban based ship repair company, Sandock Austral Shipyards (formerly Southern African Shipyards) carried out the design and main works making use of their floating dock which was relocated from Durban for the duration of the project.

SAS was supported by site supervision consultant, Lodemann Holdings and a large team from local marine engineering company, East London Shipyard.

In addition, successful refurbishment of the drydock shut-off valves and related equipment have significantly reduced the time required to flood the dock and improved its operational efficiency. This project created 29 jobs, with 70% of the contract value subcontracting benefiting Exempt Micro Enterprises (EMEs) and Qualifying Small Enterprises (QSEs).

Other work already completed under the drydock upgrade project included the replacement of electrical switch gears, crane rails, capstans, compressors and the fire protection booster pump.

Total investment from these capital projects has been in excess of R60-million.

The 72-year old dry dock was officially opened by the then Princess Elizabeth on  March 3 1947.

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