Best buddies make a splash on SA shipping scene

22 August 2018 | Web Article Number: ME201811273

Commerce & Trade
Finance & Investment
Harbour Infrastructure & Shipping
Transport, Distribution & Warehousing

CHILDHOOD friends Durand Naidoo and Thuso Mhlambi have realised a lifelong ambition by becoming the first 100% black owned ship-owners in South Africa.

The 33-year-old owners of Linsen Nambi, the company they started in 2012, made maritime history as youth owners when they bought Grindrod’s Unicorn Bunker Services.

With their female empowerment partners, Women in Oil and Energy, they became the role model for the government’s initiative to unlock transformation in the maritime and liquid fuels industries.

Best buddies make a splash on SA shipping scene
Presidential approval: President Cyril Ramaphosa congratulates Durand Naidoo and Thuso Mhlambi, first black owners of a South African shipping company at the Youth Day event in Orlando Stadium

Founding member Durand Naidoo said the deal took a “concerted effort” from the private sector (Grindrod), government (IDC) and oil majors (BP, Engen and Chevron).

“It is unbelievable that it took this long but is a first win for the recently legislated Combined Maritime Transport Policy, which calls for black ownership in shipping.”

The company’s other founding member, Thuso Mhlambi, said there was a great need for the private sector and the funding institutions to “better align themselves to government’s development plans to unlock more deals like ours”.

He added: “I would like to see the private sector opening up this space to new entrants, something that will facilitate the creation of employment.”

Naidoo and Mhlambi have set a goal: to become the leading African shipping company with a global presence. They already employ 110 people, a number they hope to increase significantly as they grow the business.

Since its inception six years ago, the company has bought three bunker vessels in the ports of Durban and Cape Town, which supply fuel to vessels. “In layman terms we are the petrol attendants of the sea,” Naidoo said.

Mhlambi said they are proud of their transformation successes. Seven out of 12 masters are black, while all 12 chief officers and all 12 chief engineers in the company are black.

The story of the inception of their company is one of a friendship that goes back to 1996, when they were both 10 and in grade 4 at Montclair Senior Primary School in Durban.

They stuck together when they progressed to the New Forest High School in Yellowwood Park.

“We walked home from school every day fantasizing about how rich we would be, the cars we would drive, the many businesses we would own and, of course, helping other poor kids,” Mhlambi said.

“Today our heads are less in the clouds, we know how difficult it is to run a start-up as an entrepreneur and we owe all of our success to God and His blessing and favour in our lives.” They took different forks in the road at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Naidoo got his Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting degree but found that becoming an auditor didn’t interest him and decided to study further and, by chance, chose Maritime Economics as an elective.

He went on to complete his Professional Qualifying Exams with the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers to become a Shipbroker.

Mhlambi obtained his BCom Honours in Accounting at the University Of KwaZulu Natal before completing his articles at KPMG.

In 2012 Naidoo proposed that they start their own shipping company.

Initially, Linsen Nambi offered ship broking, marine surveying and consulting services.

Naidoo says he conducted shipping business across the African continent, visiting places that included Uganda, Sudan, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

“We were a service orientated business and as such we could not scale our business as we did not have assets and could not build a balance sheet.

“In 2014 Thuso and I took the decision to pivot our business model to become asset based.” That’s when the business took off.

The men are in agreement that there is much work that needs to be done within the South African shipping landscape.

Said Naidoo: “During my career working for maritime companies, I observed that there were a handful of blacks in positions with decision making authority. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fulfil my ambitions working for a shipping company.”

“South Africa suffers from a high unemployment rate, yet most black people have never considered working at sea onboard vessels, because most of these positions are not advertised in South Africa.”

He added that efforts are afoot to change this, and that government has launched initiatives, including Operation Phakisa, to kickstart the oceans economy. It is estimated that the oceans can contribute R177 billion to the South African GDP.

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