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2011-03-29 MBC and MCS eight years on!

It was in August 2003 that Rob Knutzen and myself got together in a coffee shop at 2 Long Street in Cape Town to discuss what we can put back into an industry that we loved and enjoyed and which we had been a part of for 30 years.

The two areas we identified as not only business opportunities, but areas in which we can make a contribution to the maritime industry in South Africa, were crewing (job creation) through MCS and dry bulk (mineral exports) through MBC.

We started with a 3 man office in 2 Long Street after Mark Watson (Rob`s brother-in-law) joined us after a career in business, providing much needed admin, accounting, and computer skills. The experienced Lester Peteni also joined in 2003 as shareholder and non-executive chairman.

BEE was an integral part of our business philosophy from the start. Job creation and developing the maritime industry we believed could only be achieved through an inclusive strategy, combining our experience with skills development and job opportunities. Lance Manala joined us from Dudula Shipping in 2004 and along with Lester, assisted with formulating a sound BEE strategy and selling our ideas to business and government. We quickly became aware that BEE was no magic word in obtaining business, or for that matter getting the focus of government.

Our next step was to kick-start the crewing operation by employing the "queen" of crewing in SA, Deanna Collins, from SAMTRA/Safmarine. Nobody is more knowledgeable in the field of maritime training and crewing and it was a major boost for MCS. Deanna joined MCS in December 2003.

We initially focused MBC`s activity on iron ore and coal exports in the hope that we could convince exporters to enter into longterm contracts. There was however a long history of FOB exports in SA.

A visit by Tom Young, an old friend of both Robert and myself, and an advisor to the president of Sanko Steamship of Japan to South Africa, led to the establishment of a commercial and shareholders agreement between MBC/MCS and Sanko in 2005. This allowed MBC access to the Sanko fleet of tankers, bulkers and off-shore vessels, and to utilize Sanko vessels for cadet training programs.

Many successes followed in expanding the bulk and off-shore business base of MBC with a range of SA and International clients. MCS focused on training and placement programs for officers, cadets and ratings for SA and African countries. Breakthrough agreements have also been signed with South African, Angolan and Nigerian authorities to manage training programs. Since December 2003 MCS has assisted over 600 seafarers - Officers, Cadets and Ratings from South and Southern Africa - with job placements and training. This has, and will continue to be, a highlight and focus for MCS.

In addition to the business objectives of MBC/MCS, we have succeeded in building a strong team of motivated and skilled staff in MBC and MCS. The future looks bright with a team that knows and understands the business.

Has it all been worthwhile and are we meeting our original goals? It certainly has been no easy ride. Shipping is a tough and uncompromising business. In the dry bulk and off-shore business of MBC competition is against the best international players at world market rates. You sink or you swim!

Has it all been worthwhile and are we meeting our original goals? It certainly has been no easy ride. Shipping is a tough and uncompromising business. In the dry bulk and off-shore business of MBC competition is against the best international players at world market rates. You sink or you swim!

The efforts of MCS to expand maritime job opportunities for SA seafarers have been without any assistance from SA authorities. While it has been disappointing that there has been little support from SA authorities, despite a lot of uninformed talk about opportunities in the maritime sector, we have survived for 7 years and steadily built the business base of MBC and MCS. We have expanded the business beyond SA borders, and are focusing on West Africa and the East.

Establishing a new business with private money takes time and effort. The collapse of the dry bulk market in the third quarter of 2008 was a major setback. We are now in the first quarter of 2011 -again in a severe market downturn. These are the challenges of shipping that you must overcome to survive. At the same time MCS have reached critical mass and will expand its pool of seafarers from south and southern Africa for job opportunities nationally and internationally.

The future looks bright. Most of all it has been fun and challenging. We need to secure long term business for MBC and MCS, and strengthen the balance sheet. This will be the major objectives over the next three years. The foundation is in place, the skills have been developed, and we are confident about the opportunities ahead.