As far back as December 2019, inefficiency at Cape Town’s port was highlighted by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism who convened a meeting at the Cape Town International Convention Centre with key stakeholders representing the entire port logistics chain, from exporters and importers, to trucking companies, the respective divisions of Transnet, Navis, SARS and shipping lines, as well as representatives from the City of Cape Town.
At the meeting the Department of Economic Development and Tourism presented the root causes of congestion, including institutional matters, port capacity, and the traffic flow of trucks carrying containers into and out of the port.
While the urgency of addressing the congestion issues at the Port of Cape Town was agreed by all, and a task team was nominated, comprising of 10 senior representatives from the entire port logistics chain, this month, the issue was again raised in the media as exporters, and Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing among them, looked at possible solutions to the worsening crisis.
“The Minister of Economic Development and Tourism said in a December 2019 statement: “To demonstrate this urgency, I have requested the task team to meet within two weeks and to implement the first remedial actions within three months. The task team have 10 priority issues to deal with, ranging from a shortage of cranes to traffic flows and effective communications throughout the logistics chain. Synchronisation of working hours in the logistics chain will also be addressed.
“Where the global standard is three to five cranes per ship to load containers, the average number of cranes per ship at the Port of Cape Town is 2.5 for the year-to-date. The impact is an additional delay of at least three days in port per ship. With 510 vessels calling at the Cape Town container terminal in the past year, this implies a total loss of 1,530 ship days per year due to congestion.”
According to Tru-Cape, issues and delays raised in December last year have only gotten worse, exacerbated by Covid-19 but not because of it.
As the largest exporter of South African apples and pears, Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing has done everything possible, including using road freight – at additional risk and cost – to get refrigerated containers or Reefers, from the Western Cape to meet ships at Coega, The Special Economic Zone in Nelson Mandela Bay and the container port for Port Elizabeth.
Tru-Cape managing director, Roelf Pienaar, says port delays are only part of the problem: “The limited availability of Reefers, something Tru-Cape raised in the media in what seems like a decade ago, changing shipping schedules where some lines are skipping Cape Town all together and climate, which is an ever present factor all impact our ability to export. Tru-Cape’s nimble logistics manager along with LINK, a logistics company co-owned by Tru-Cape, have pulled out all the stops to ensure we get our product to market and do so on time,” he says.
Pienaar explains that from August each year that, as the Northern Hemisphere season changes and their local-market fruit becomes available, tariffs are added to apple and pear exports. “Getting our product to land before the tariff deadline has a significant impact on our bottom line and the income that returns to our growers and their ability to replant trees.
“Our teams are in minute-by-minute contact with Transnet/the port, the shipping lines, CGA (Citrus Growers Association) and the Fresh Produce Exporter’s Forum (FPEF), via LINK. The shortening of depot hours, reduced labour and other factors have reduced port efficiency by a further 30% recently.”
According to Pienaar, LINK has been very proactive in securing other methods through which the company can ship: on feeder vessels, conventional vessels and trucking to Port Elizabeth to connect with vessels there.
FruitNet’s Fred Meintjies reported that the Western Cape minister of finance and economic opportunities, David Maynier, said: “We cannot go on like this, and so I have written to the minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, requesting a meeting with himself and the Transnet management team to discuss interventions to address the challenges in the Port of Cape Town.
“The efficient and effective performance of the port of Cape Town is critical to economic recovery and growth for the Western Cape,” Maynier continued. “We are very concerned about the operational issues currently being experienced at the port.
“With the announcement that three shipping lines are cancelling calls to Cape Town or implementing a Cape Town congestion surcharge from July, and that large volumes of citrus exports are being redirected to Eastern Cape ports to ensure continuity in supply to markets, it is clear that urgency and resources are needed if we are to resolve the current operational issues at the port of Cape Town.
“But with the further impact of Covid-19 infections, service levels have further deteriorated since the beginning of April,” Maynier pointed out. “Two weeks ago the service level was only 42 per cent of the average for last year in terms of containers moved.” Fruitnet reported.
Werner van Rooyen, Operational Manager of the FPEF says that during this time there are some great lessons to be learned: “As Aristotle said, the whole is greater than and different from the sum of its parts. In this way, we require a paradigm shift towards focusing on Public Private Partnerships of South African terminals and especially in the port of Cape Town. Not only will the private sector (exporters) and State-Owned Enterprises (SOE’s) benefit from such a partnership, but also the greater economy, communities and citizens will reap the benefits of increased efficiencies. PPP’s is proven by research to be effective and utilised as the preferred operating model in many international ports.
One major benefit of PPP’s is that the return on investment (ROI) might be greater than with traditional, all-private or all-government fulfilment. Government will also be able to redirect government funds towards other socioeconomic areas. Additionally, greater efficiency of PPP’s also reduces government budget and budget deficits.” Van Rooyen ends.
Tru-Cape’s Pienaar has the last word: Tru-Cape seeks to be part of the solution and looks forward to the Cape Town port again being considered as The Fairest Cape rather than the Cape of Storms.”