South African citrus exporters facing problems as peak season looms

As South Africa’s citrus fruit exporters prepare for their peak shipping season and shipping lines rush to reposition empty reefers, the country’s main ports are pushing through programmes to increase capacity.

Citrus exporters are faced with a series of challenges, including port congestion, a potential shortage of reefer equipment and the danger of not being in compliance with the country’s trucking regulations.

The Cape Town Container Terminal (CTPT) was due to return to full operational capacity today – although port operator Transnet had to close the terminal for 12 hours on Saturday for cleaning “in light of the sudden increase in pandemic cases in the Western Cape”. The terminal had recorded its first case of infection the previous day.

According to guidance from the Citrus Growers Association (CGA), the port was due to go from operating two of its berths to the full three today, while the Ngquara Container Terminal (NCT) is set to go from one of its three berths to two. At the beginning of April, when South Africa’s lockdown began, both ports were reduced to operating one berth apiece and the number of containerships waiting at anchor begun to rise.

CGA said on Friday: “Thanks to TPT [Transnet Port Terminals] for heeding our call from the onset. If the status quo had remained as it was on 27 March, the situation would have been very dire.”

That of course, would depend on growers obtaining enough empty reefers to load their exports – and it was this fear that recently led Maersk to launch a special sailing from Dubai at the end of April to deliver 1,800 empty reefers to South African growers. These are now entering their supply chains and local sources largely agree this should initially be enough to meet demand.

“But some damage has already been done,” Mike Walwyn, Western Cape regional chairman of the South African Association of Freight Forwarders, told The Loadstar. “At the moment, we have two conventional refrigerated vessels a week calling at Durban and Cape Town to take up some of the slack, but they only carry the equivalent of around 200 containers each, whereas vessels usually load over 1,000.”

A further problem for exporters and their forwarders and hauliers is that every reefer flouts South African road legislation. Under article 224 (b) of its National Road Traffic Regulations, the maximum height of a box to be transported by truck is 4.3 metres, while a high-cube reefer is some 0.3 metres above the limit.

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