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Transnet crisis deepens as logistics operator suspends processing of trucks at Richards Bay

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The repercussions of this will affect the South African economy, which is already taking strain due to Transnet’s poor performance.

A long train of trucks queues outside a bulk storage depot in Richards Bay before being given the go-ahead to offload their cargo. Such queues are commonplace, particularly in the port cities of Durban and Richards Bay. File picture

TRANSNET’S Richards Bay Port Terminal has thrown its hands up in the air over its R300 million a day business handling the offloading of trucks after it said that, in the interest of public safety on the roads in the uMhlathuze Local Municipality to the terminal, it may suspend the processing of trucks bringing cargo into its terminals via road.

The repercussions of this will affect the economy, which is already taking strain due to Transnet’s poor performance.

Only trucks whose vessels have been already nominated would be processed.

Transnet said on Friday that an urgent meeting with customers and all relevant stakeholders will be held soon to discuss the new developments.

Transnet said: “The industry may propose a far more superior traffic management solution that could create order in Richards Bay and completely eliminate the staging of trucks on the N2, almost immediately.”

This comes as bottlenecks at the Richards Bay port have wreaked havoc on the uMhlathuze Local Municipality, creating road congestion that has reached uncontrollable levels, such that the safety of road users within the city has been at risk for months since the increase in truck traffic volumes.

The crisis is also playing out on the waters as numerous shipping vessels are stuck on the shoreline as they queue up for cargo from the trucks.

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) said it was yet to assess the threat to safety protocols and cost implications on shipping lines, which normally incur penalties for delays in transmitting cargo over international waters.

“We are not aware of it, we are still to see what is going on and will get back to you,” a senior Samsa official said.

The Richards Bay municipality, which has initiated legal action against Transnet for the bottlenecks, has been at the end of its tether deploying scarce manpower to direct traffic and ultimately incurring high overtime costs while losing focus of its core functions.

The uMhlathuze Municipality in Richards Bay is taking the government and Transnet to court over its alleged failure to maintain rail infrastructure, which has resulted in severe congestion of trucks transporting cargo, particularly coal, to the port.

Stakeholders, including the South African Minerals Council and the Road Freight Association (RFA), have called for the decision to hand over the operation of the ports to the private sector to increase efficiency as Transnet’s ineptness is costing the economy more than R1 billion a day.

The Minerals Council estimates that during 2022 some 41 million tons of ore were moved by road resulting in 102,000 trucks a month streaming into ports in South Africa and Maputo. In the first three months of this year, that number has risen to 120,000 trucks.

“The consequence for the communities along the trucking routes, road accidents and the rapid degradation of secondary and primary roads as trucks carrying 35 tons each of dusty coal, chrome or manganese has been devastating. A single train can replace up to 400 trucks,” according to research conducted by the council.

– BUSINESS REPORT

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