Master’s in Maritime Studies for Master Mariner Ice Pilot

Captain Knowledge Bengu
Master of Commerce in Maritime Studies graduate Captain Knowledge Bengu.

Captain Knowledge Bengu, Commander of South Africa’s ice-breaking vessel, the SA Agulhas II, graduated with a Master of Commerce in Maritime Studies

Bengu was part of the South African maritime team that played a key role in finding the 107-year-old shipwreck Endurance in the Antarctic waters last year (2022). 

‘It was a very challenging experience to study whilst working at sea. I missed lots of classes and deadlines. The outbreak of COVID-19 made it even harder for me as it resulted in extended tours of duty following quarantine regulations of various countries,’ said Bengu. 

Taking all of the challenges in his stride, which on top of a demanding career also included command of various ships and complex operations with limited internet access to research, Bengu refused to give up on his studies and most importantly his research. Titled: Customs Procedures for South African Ships that Voyage to and from South African Islands, the study was supervised by Dr Sanele Gumede. Through this research, Bengu aims to provide solutions to the Department of Fisheries and Forestry on how it can engage with its relevant stakeholders and reach a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to exempt the SA Agulhas II from conducting the customs and immigration procedures as a foreign going vessel. 

‘The Department owns the SA Agulhas II and also manages Marion Island, which is a Maritime Protected Area. Marion Island is an extension of South Africa however, customs and immigration still require the Department to conduct port clearance procedures the same way as the vessel proceeding to a foreign destination. This research, combined with the degree’s coursework, gave me a deeper understanding of maritime business economics which will provide me the opportunity to become a maritime specialist and to offer advice to shipping companies. The goal now is to write articles addressing challenges in the maritime spaces,’ said Bengu. 

Having navigated ships through the toughest oceans in the world, it is surprising to learn that Bengu, who hails from Durban’s Umlazi Township, grew up working as a bricklayer with his uncle and that Medicine was his initial career choice. 

‘My first choice was becoming a doctor, however, my next-door neighbour who worked as a seaman for a shipping company used to bring me maritime magazines and pamphlets and convinced me otherwise. I worked with my uncle as his assistant in bricklaying from a very young age which manifested an interest in property. So, if I am not on-board board a ship, you will find me renovating one of my properties,’ he said. 

While Bengu admits that juggling a career, studies and personal life is a lot of strain and requires sacrifices – not only for him but also for his family – his career has taught him to be humble, courageous, resilient and passionate. 

‘I sacrificed a lot on my rest on and off the ship; my family took a huge strain and had to outsource most of my handy jobs around the house. It’s not fun juggling work and studying at the prime of your career. Not everything can be done at once and I had to set up realistic goals across all areas of my life. My family is very excited about the graduation. They supported me through thick and thin and use this achievement to inspire young family members who admire my courage to push against all odds.’ 

Words: Thandiwe Jumo

Photograph: Supplied 

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