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More delays in getting Port Elizabeth crane operational, while govt ministers put pressure on the port authority

South Africa port crisis: Berthing delays, shortages of containers and hauliers

Harbour personnel are cautiously optimistic that the situation will start improving at Ngqura Port Terminal (NPT), but it will take two weeks, at the least, to get back on schedule. Staffing shortages and low productivity at all of the country’s containers terminals mean that Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) will have to work around the clock to stabilise the situation and avoid a severe build-up of vessels that cannot get berthing slots.

TPT has over the weekend obtained an interdict against 11 employees who have been charged with ‘malicious radio interference’. Reports are that average gross crane moves an hour are climbing again to the region of twenty, after fewer than ten an hour last week.

Photo: Transnet Port Terminals

“The biggest challenge from a shipper’s point of view is the delay in ship berthing which means containers that need to be packed for specific vessels are delayed, and likewise for importers (as in the case of Volkswagen South Africa) inventory is delayed,” notes Mitchell Brooke, logistics development manager at the Citrus Growers’ Association. “We are seeing berthing delays at Ngqura Container Terminal of up to seven days and vessel working days averaging four days, where it should normally be 48 hours.”

PE will not have a second operational crane until month-end
Hopes that Port Elizabeth’s second crane would be operational by now, allowing SAECS vessels to revert back to the PE Container Terminal, were dashed when it was discovered that its software needs to be re-installed, and now it is only expected to lighten the load at Port Elizabeth Harbour (where only one crane is working) by the end of July.

A request for funding of the software refurbishment will be made to Treasury. The private sector has offered its services in helping Transnet to have the funding request expedited.

The one silver lining, notes a Port Elizabeth port official, is that the plug-in points have been sorted out and that those backlogs have been cleared, but there is still only one day of stacking allowed per vessel at the Ngqura Container Terminal.

Consequences of trucking Eastern Cape citrus to Cape Town and Durban
Meanwhile, with the large volumes of Eastern Cape citrus trucked to Cape Town or Durban (adding about R5 or 0,3 euros more in costs per carton) a shortage of containers at Cape Town Harbour as well as hauliers are developing.

In Cape Town a cold store manager notes that their capacity to come up with plans to keep a flow of fruit moving, is stretched to the max. They’re seeing much larger volumes of Eastern Cape citrus than they normally do and their cold stores are overflowing, but the opening of two new cold stores recently has come just in time to relieve pressure around Cape Town.

Loading of pallets in the pre-stage cooling chambers are hampered by a shortage of containers and they’re turning to various shipping lines for sufficient reefer containers to be released from the depot.

As hauliers are obliged to undertake long routes between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, to the west, and Durban to the east, their turnaround times are becoming much longer and a “massive shortage of hauliers”, in the words of an exporter, is developing.

The matter has reached the top levels of government, with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan last week saying that he has urgently requested the Transnet board to deal with the situation which was negatively affecting the citrus and automotive trade.

The citrus industry has called upon the Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, to intercede on behalf of the industry, and will be meeting with him next week.


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