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Crisis at SA ports with thousands of containers stranded

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The crisis at South Africa’s ports has reached new levels of congestion, with an estimated 71,000 containers stuck at sea at the Port of Durban.

Transnet Port Terminals said that it would take between seven and 15 weeks to clear all vessels from anchorage at both piers at the Port of Durban. Picture Leon Lestrade, Independent Newspapers

THE CRISIS at South Africa’s ports has reached new levels of congestion, according to a number of reports.

Durban harbour has tens of thousands of containers that are stranded on ships.

According to Transnet, there are more than 60 ships that are anchored at the Port of Durban, and it will take seven to 15 weeks to clear these vessels.

The State-owned entity said that 20 of the 63 ships docking in Durban are meant to head to Durban Container Terminals (DCT) Pier 1 and Pier 2.

The company is actively working on a way to clear this major backlog.

Transnet said on Friday that, with all the initiatives employed, it would take Pier 1 seven weeks to clear the backlog and 15 weeks or less for Pier 2.

Maritime operators and fruit exporters have described as a ‘drastic situation’ the delays experienced at the Port of Durban as an estimated 71,000 containers are stuck at sea.

The South African Association of Ship Operators and Agents (Saasoa) said some container carriers laden with Christmas stock have been at anchorage for days, and in some cases weeks, and there were no signs of the delays abating.

Saasoa CEO Peter Besnard said they were doing everything possible tk bring the respective parties together to try and overcome the extreme problem.

“Container-handling equipment at both terminals are continually breaking down, let alone the extreme windy conditions that prevail,” Besnard said.

“We are continuing to fight for the cause, but what must be remembered is that the problem hasn’t emanated in Saasoa’s backyard, but rather that of Transnet.”

The organisation lists one of its objectives as ensuring that vessel and cargo interests enjoyed maximum throughput, productivity levels and quick turnaround of vessels at all terminals in South African ports.

Meanwhile, the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) said Transnet was the backbone of the country’s export economy and deserved immediate attention.

CGA chief operations officer Paul Hardman said that while the citrus export season had largely come to an end, fortunately, the current delays were not affecting their members that much.

“However, members do face steep penalties if any citrus arrives late, or if the quality of the fruit is in any way damaged by port negligence,” Hardman said.

He said they were looking forward to the 2024 season, adding that improvement in port logistics was essential.

He said the citrus industry in South Africa had massive potential to generate 100,000 new jobs over the next nine years.

“However, this growth is predicated on getting export citrus to foreign markets,” Hardman said.

“If the logistics crisis does not get the urgent attention it needs, the citrus industry cannot create these new jobs, and if the crisis continues chances are good jobs will be lost.”

The CGA has called for National Treasury’s support of Transnet’s recovery plan, but said this support should be conditioned on the further expansion of public-private partnerships in rail and port projects.

“We have welcomed such projects in the past, including the selection of International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI) for the development and upgrading of the Durban Container Terminal Pier 2. We have started to engage with ICTSI on the project,” it said.

However, Transnet is yet to sign a contract for the partial privatisation with the Philippines-based ICTSI, in spite of announcing them four months ago as its partner to turn around the container terminal in Durban.

Old Mutual Wealth investment strategist Izak Odendaal said Transnet’s dismal performance in port and rail has a massive impact on trade-oriented sectors and the broader economy. Odendaal said this is not always appreciated, but the decline in rail volumes over the past five years has been worse than the decline in Eskom’s electricity output.

“Transnet’s crisis, including its own financial situation, is as bad or worse than Eskom’s. The only reason people aren’t up in arms is because we all experience load shedding directly, while only certain businesses experience the direct frustration of dealing with a crumbling logistics network,” Odendaal said.

“The good news is that the government is working with the private sector to tackle this problem. The only solution is large-scale private sector involvement and investment in rail and ports. Transnet cannot turn this around by itself. However, it will take time – probably at least two years – before we really start seeing improvement.”

DELAYS AT CAPE TOWN PORT

The crisis at Durban is not isolated, and the issues at Transnet have also led to delays at Cape Town Port.

According to Business Live, the Mother City is experiencing delays of up to 14 days in order to offload cargo from the ships that can be docked.

As a result of the delay, shipping conglomerate Maersk has decided to remove Cape Town as a port of call and will be using Mauritius.

The company said that they will now tranship all CT cargo in Port Louis and then send the cargo in smaller shipments to the Cape.

It should be noted that outgoing cargo from the CT will also go through this process.

Maersk said that commencing in the first week of December, Far East-West Africa (FEW2, FEW3, and FEW6) will have updated rotations.

In a statement, the company said that in addition to these, Cape Town Express, a new feeder service, will be introduced and connected to the updated SAFARI service.

“The new and updated ocean services have been designed with customers’ requirements in mind: seamless and reliable connection between the Far East and West Africa. South Africa, which is facing congestion, will get connected to a dedicated feeder service via Port Louis and be delinked from the FEW service in order to improve reliability and transit time.

“The new and updated ocean services have been designed with customers’ requirements in mind: seamless and reliable connection between the Far East and West Africa. South Africa, which is facing congestion, will get connected to a dedicated feeder service via Port Louis and be delinked from the FEW service in order to improve reliability and transit time.”

These delays in Durban and Cape Town will no doubt have a major impact on the festive season.

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