Scientists from SA‚ Mozambique‚ Kenya‚ Nigeria and Egypt will be on board the SA Agulhas II, when it departs on the second international Indian Ocean research expedition from Durban.

Speaking from the ship on Friday, which is berthed in Cape Town harbour, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said: "We mark a significant milestone here today because this will be the first multidisciplinary African-led scientific research cruise."

The SA Agulhas II will leave Durban on Wednesday and cruise up the east coast of Africa to Tanzania, as part of SA’s contribution to the international research expedition.

Researchers from India‚ Italy and Belgium will also join the research cruise.

A programme under the UN Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission‚ the expedition aims to carry out oceanographic and atmospheric research and will run several cruises until 2020.

The SA Agulhas II‚ dedicated to singer Miriam Makeba‚ is a research and polar supply vessel built in 2012 with state-of-the-art technology.

Molewa said: "She has performed well over the last few years‚ with focused work in the Southern Ocean and around Antarctica. This will be her first voyage into the warm waters of the East African coast.

"With the advantage of proximity and the commitment to research and science in Antarctica‚ SA invests considerably in Antarctica and sub-Antarctica programmes."

The South African National Antarctic Programme has bases in Antarctica and on Marion and Gough islands in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Molewa said data collection on this cruise would cover subjects including physics‚ chemistry‚ geology‚ biology and biodiversity.

South African Ashley Johnson is the chief scientist and six of his colleagues will lead research in these fields.

"We will be building our capacity through doing ‘science sailing’ all the way to Tanzania‚" he said

Molewa said that this week, the British high commissioner had commended SA for its research‚ which was far ahead of some developed countries.

The UN Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission regards the limited environmental data about the Indian Ocean as a matter of global concern.

Molewa said: "This is extraordinary if one considers just how important the Indian Ocean is to ecology‚ shipping‚ marine commerce and the like."

This expedition is taking place more than 50 years since the first in 1961. It also aims to assist Indian Ocean countries to conserve ocean integrity‚ find ways to unlock ocean economies and guard against threats such as storm surges and coastal erosion.

Molewa said: "For example‚ I have noted there is a growing interest in finding medicinal and pharmaceutical discoveries from deep and shallow parts of the ocean."

She said Operation Phakisa’s Oceans Economy programme‚ launched in 2014‚ aimed to unlock sustainable development.

The government estimates that‚ by 2033‚ oceans could contribute R177bn to SA’s GDP and create more than 1-million jobs. Molewa said the contribution over the past two years was R24.6bn.

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