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Tender was tailor-made for winner Amsol, say defeated bidders. From Moneyweb.

The Department of Transport for the first time included an age restriction for vessels in the tender, seemingly to suit Amsol’s Umkhuseli. Image: Supplied

The recent award of a tender for marine emergency towing services to the incumbent operator, Amsol, has plenty wrong with it according to defeated bidders. 

“It appears to have been designed with a pre-determined outcome,” says one bidder, who asked not to be named.

Says Durand Naidoo, CEO of Linsen Nambi, one of the defeated bidders, in response to the minister of transport: “I have, frankly, become somewhat disillusioned by the history of the handling of such RFP’s [Requests for Proposals] by your department.”

The tender, looking for emergency towing services for vessels in distress off SA’s coast, was advertised by the Department of Transport (DoT) in September 2023.

It was awarded last week to Amsol (African Marine Solutions), which was originally awarded a three-year contract in 2013.

When the three-year period was up, the contract was rolled over annually – apparently in breach of the Public Finance Management Act.

The tender was subsequently advertised several times but then withdrawn. 

Some of the defeated bidders are now likely to contest the tender, which could end up in court.

Moneyweb reached out to Amsol, which referred questions to the DoT. Questions were also sent to DoT, but no response had been received by the time of publication.

Specifications drafted to ‘unfairly benefit one bidder’

Amsol forwarded a comprehensive sustainability report detailing its scope of operations and its success in meeting various social development goals.

“I am proud of the work that Amsol does to reduce the high barriers to entry in our industry by developing small businesses as well as the specialist skills required to maintain international standards of vessel operations, fleet management and safety,” writes CEO Dan Ngakane in the report.

One of the principal objections from the defeated bidders was that they were given little more than a week to finalise their bids for a contract worth potentially R50 million a year over five years.

In a letter of objection to the DoT, Daniel Ngubane of Mehdi Maritime Services says tender specifications were clearly drafted to unfairly benefit one bidder over others.

He points out that the Smit Amandla (the vessel previously used by Amsol) is an old vessel built in 1976 by Safmarine and operated for many years by Pentow Marine, in which Safmarine and Murray & Roberts each had a 50% share. Dutch salvage company Smit acquired a majority share in Pentow Marine in 1999 and then formed Smit Amandla Marine in 2004. Amsol then acquired the business in 2016 as a 30% black SA-owned operation.

WatchAmsol acquires Smit Amandla Marine [Feb 2017]

The losing bidders point out that the same company has operated the emergency towing services without interruption since 1976. The vessel used until recently was the John Ross, later renamed Smit Amandla, which was recently retired from service.

Tender ‘custom-made’ for Umkhuseli

The latest tender seems custom-made for the new vessel proposed by Amsol, the Umkhuseli, says Ngubane. The tender requires, for the first time, a vessel aged below 15 years, which suits the Umkhuseli. “The sudden inclusion of an age restriction is seen as designed to benefit Amsol,” says Ngubane.

On paper, Smit Amandla’s bollard pull (the vessel’s pulling strength) was 181 tons, but as an old vessel, it does not have the required strength to handle certain distressed vessels at sea.

The new tender specified a bollard pull of 200t – again, seemingly suited for the Umkhuseli, which has a pull of 220t.   

The new tender included a speed requirement of a minimum of 14 knots in Beaufort 10-force winds. The DoT did not include this in previous tenders when Smit Amandla was the candidate vessel.

“It is common knowledge that the Smit Amandla could not have achieved the speed requirements, now introduced when the vessel has been discarded by Amsol,” says Ngubane.

Lip service?

The tender is claimed to pay lip service to the need for a new entrant to the market – only to structure the specifications to benefit the ship Amsol already has in service, say the defeated bidders.

Read: SA’s shrinking maritime industry needs urgent interventions to support ESD

The Amsol sustainability report highlights the role of the Umkhuseli as part of the South African National Pollution Prevention Strategy.

“Amsol’s systems and methods of operation are focussed on ensuring no impact on the marine environment in accordance with relevant regulations and legislation,” says the report.