Backlogs at the new Coega harbour, 25km north along the coast from Port Elizabeth, are the result of a number of factors: strong winds over the past three weeks (although currently better) prevent stocks from being cleared and insufficient plug-in points, preventing loading. There is a chronic shortage of containers and low-level labour unrest after an averted strike at various ports last month.
When conditions improve after days of heavy winds, instead of opening the stack for all, priority is given to vessels already berthing and some shipping lines then decide to skip Port Elizabeth in order to maintain schedule integrity.
Wind at Port Elizabeth Harbour (now used primarily for the automotive and mining industries) causes more ships to use Coega Harbour than the port was designed for, leading to kilometre-long queues of trucks waiting to enter the harbour and obstructing all traffic flow. Truck drivers have other challenges too, except for endless hours of waiting: there have been arson attacks on trucks on national roads to protest the alleged employment of non-South Africans by trucking companies.
“We are the other option”
“When they see the paw-paw is going to hit the fan, some major shipping lines will just decide to skip Port Elizabeth,” says Charles Gantz of Anlin Shipping, South African agent for Seatrade and Baltic Shipping (together forming the Reefer Alliance). “But we always still go to Port Elizabeth. Everyone’s moaning about the situation at the harbour but we’re the other option to the clean container route.”
He notes that it’s their first year sending to the new Coega Harbour, loading ships weekly for Russia and Europe. “Coega is working well for us. The storage area is closer to the loading area and you don’t have to approach the harbour through the city.”
He continues: “Breakbulk is working better here than containers because there’s a limitation on the space for containers. With our under deck breakbulk with container capacity we can get past the system and the major congestion. Our vessels don’t load in the same area where the container ships load.”
Furthermore, he says, they try to accommodate unforeseen circumstances at the harbour (of which there are plenty), being a bit more flexible in adapting to the situation. “We can play a bit more with volumes and our ships can pick up the slack between them."
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