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Predicted rain worries stonefruit and grape farmers

Windbound Port of Cape Town not operational since Tuesday

Cape Town is no stranger to wind during summer, in particular the dry Southeasterly wind colloquially called the Cape Doctor. Capetonians say it has been blowing stronger than usual this year, as if it has been getting a little bit windier every year.

“The wind is just terrible,” says an exporter, and even areas deeper inland are getting more wind than usual. 

In December the port experienced 169 hours of wind delays, compared to 142 hours over December 2021.

January 2023 has, likewise, been windier than the previous two years, losing 190 hours to wind delays, while January 2022 had 135 hours of wind delays.

Cape Town Container terminal (photo Chris Troch | Dreamstime)

Very large backlog building up
The Fresh Produce Exporters' Forum says: "The port has not been operational since Tuesday due to weather delays and not accepting any reefer containers at the moment. Industry has utilised almost all available plug points around the port."

Exporters are hoping for a resumption of loading on Sunday if conditions allow. It’s not only the wind speed that’s problematic, but the wind gusts which caused a crane to topple over into the sea a few years ago.

"This is creating a much larger backlog than the port is used to," remarks a freight forwarder. "They firmed five vessel stacks at the same time, so a lot more containers were loaded - including containers for two large EU/UK vessels."

He feels that port authorities ought to have heeded wind warnings. "They shouldn't have firmed the MSC Caterina and the Maersk Vilnius stacks. It was reckless, and it's going to put the industry under a lot of pressure when the port eventually re-opens."  

Idling trucks wait for days
“Trucks can’t offload their containers,” says an exporter. “The trucks are kept idling to keep the Gensets running, waiting at depots.  Some have been idling like this for days. At the port all the plugin points are full and the stack is also full.”

Replacements are sent for the truck drivers who are waiting to offload, with additional food and diesel to keep the drivers and Gensets going.

Cold storage facilities are reaching maximum capacity and some are already at maximum capacity, not accepting new intakes while others are considering their options.

The South African Table Grape Industry noted in their weekly newsletter that, besides wind, there have been a number of other issues recently: “Performance output [at the port of Cape Town] in recent weeks has not been satisfactory, due to vessel omissions and a concerted effort by Transnet and other stakeholders is required to manage volumes in the coming weeks.”

Weather service predicts a rainy week ahead
Meanwhile, after days of uncomfortably high temperatures, light rain has fallen over many parts of the Western Cape Boland and even larger amounts are predicted to fall on Monday.

Large volumes of grapes from the Hex River Valley need to be picked and packed over the coming 5 weeks and for the moment, a grape grower says, the lower valley has been cutting grapes with no interruption while there was only slight disruption towards the upper valley, closer to Touws River.


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