SA’s famous icebreaker gets second life ferrying tourists to Antarctica

But training and research to continue on SA Agulhas 1 under new ownership

30 January 2024 - 17:23
By Bobby Jordan
The SA Agulhas 1 has been sold.
Image: Bobby Jordan The SA Agulhas 1 has been sold.

South Africa’s polar research vessel SA Agulhas 1 will soon host tourists hoping for a glimpse of Antarctica.

For years the flagship of South African marine research until replaced by an updated model, the ship has been sold to a private company after floundering in financial doldrums. It is set for a rebirth under the mantle of German maritime company JS Maritime. Conditions of the sale were that Agulhas 1 will continue to offer seafarer training to South African cadets.

The ship was officially handed over to JS Maritime on Tuesday during an on-board ceremony attended by transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga.

“JS Maritime, spurred on by the cordial relations between Germany and South Africa, responded to our vision for our training vessel, that wherever she goes she must continue to fly the South African flag both literally and otherwise,” Chikunga said at the ceremony, attended by dignitaries including former tourism minister Derek Hanekom.

“The partnership we have nourished and are undertaking here today, through the repurposing of SA Agulhas 1, will go a very long way towards meeting the dreams of multitudes of young people, the realisation of which is entrusted in the offices we all hold.

Transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga formally hands over the SA Agulhas to its new owners, JS Maritime.
Image: Bobby Jordan Transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga formally hands over the SA Agulhas to its new owners, JS Maritime.

“The SA Agulhas has been more than a vessel. It has been a beacon of hope and a testament to South Africa's capabilities in the maritime sector. As we turn this page, we are not merely looking back at her glorious past but are firmly focused on the future she heralds, a future where South Africa continues to assert its presence on the global maritime stage.”

The steel-hulled, ice-strengthened vessel, built in Japan in 1977, will serve as the de facto headquarters for the Seafarer Employment and Development Programme, to be officially launched in the first quarter of the new financial year. The programme is billed as a strategic partnership between South Africa and Germany, which enjoy strong bilateral trade relations.

Speaking at the handover, JS Maritime CEO Stefan Bulow said seafarer cadets would be in line for employment opportunities after completing their training. He said tourism and scientific research would also be an important aspect of the repurposed Agulhas 1.

 “We want to see sea travellers on board,” Bulow said, adding passengers would be able to experience life aboard a famous research vessel.

“There are lots of things to be done. We’re not only going to give the ship a future but we’re going to give an old lady a second life.”