Local mariculture company Sea Ark and China Direct have signed an agreement for the provision and management of an advanced mariculture technology to be constructed in China.
The project, which is expected to reach full capacity by 2014, has a total investment value of Rand 9,2-billion. Sea Ark Africa, which is owned by the black economic-empowered Bosasa group of companies, said the facility was a significant development for South Africa's aquaculture trade.
The technology deployed in China Direct's facility in the Zhanjiang economic zone would be built and managed online from Coega. Two other Bosasa companies, project management company BuildAll, and Sondolo Information Technologies (IT), will also be involved.
Sea Ark said that South African and US scientists, working in Coega, and supported by BuildAll and Sondolo IT, have developed a closed biosecure prawn farming system. The technology combines computer-driven control systems with biological science to change the way prawn and shrimp are produced.
Pilot successThe company said that the pilot project had successfully demonstrated that the mix of science and technology offered the potential to grow prawns faster, with a lower food consumption rate, and greater densities than in other systems currently used worldwide.
The system will produce the jumbo shrimp that have a high demand in the US, Japan, Europe and other markets. When fully operational, the Coega plant will have the capacity to produce 20, 000 tonnes of prawns a year. Most will be exported, and will contribute positively to South Africa's balance of payments.
"Through our biosecure indoor ponds and by using our proper nutritional system, we are able to maximise size, growth, survivability and biomass - and through this, obviously, we are able to maximise productivity," said Sea Ark's international president, Dave Wills.
"What prawn farms across the world do in three to four months, we do in ten to eleven weeks. We can literally grow a prawn to the same size as our competitors two to three times faster," he continued.
The decision to roll out the massive Coega facility over the next six years was taken following the success of the pilot project within the Industrial Development Zone near Port Elizabeth, and was subject only to the completion of the environmental-impact assessment, which is expected in weeks, Sea Ark said.
The company said that an economic impact study had shown that besides creating 11, 000 largely semi-skilled and unskilled direct jobs when the project had reached full maturity in six years, its Coega facility had the ability to generate 88,000 indirect employment opportunities in a range of support services and industries ranging from transport to catering for the work force, security, and construction and maintenance.
Besides the 1,000 jobs for women in the prawn-processing facility to be built as part of Sea Ark's 11,000 job roll-out, there would be significant numbers of skilled posts for laboratory technicians, marine biologists, software specialists, and engineers.
Exact replicaIn China, BuildAll would deploy a permanent team of four project managers, and Sondolo IT would deploy software engineers for the duration of the construction of the Zhanjiang plant. Supported by architects, plumbers, electrical, civil, and software engineers on a rotational basis, the team would ensure that the Chinese facility is built to the exact tolerances and specifications developed in Coega during the pilot phase.
"The construction has to be extremely exact for Sea Ark's science to work. Sometimes it is literally a matter of millimetres - the ponds have to be done in a precise way for the operating systems to work," noted BuildAll chairperson Arthur Kotzen.
As part of the agreements between Sea Ark and China Direct, BuildAll was contracted to ensure that every one of the 8 000 ponds to be built in China conform to the norms established at Coega which now form part of the patented Sea Ark system. Once the Chinese facility is fully operational, technical experts from BuildAll will stay in China to help run the project and to convert existing open ponds to the closed, biosecure Sea Ark system.
Many of Sea Ark's patented processes will be run remotely from Coega, among others, the water quality and temperature, feed consistency, and plant biosecurity would be monitored online by South African technicians at the Coega research and development centre.