Johannesburg - BHP Billiton fired back at state transport company Transnet on Friday, blaming it for the problems that coal exporters faced at the Richards Bay coal terminal.
In response to comments by Transnet chief executive Brian Molefe that BHP Billiton was refusing to give sufficient terminal access to junior coal exporters, the mining company said the problem lay with Transnet, as insufficient rail capacity meant no company, not even Richards Bay Coal Terminal Limited (RBCT) shareholders, had access to their nameplate capacity at the port.
“The reality is that Transnet Freight Rail’s rail capacity does not even match the current port capacity of 91 million tons per annum (Mtpa),” it said.
Transnet did not respond when asked for reaction.
BHP Billiton, which last week got into a heated discussion with Molefe when it refused to give up 1Mtpa of its concession at the terminal for junior exporters, said Transnet’s request for this capacity came when the company itself was short of port capacity and was unable to even develop some of its own remaining prospecting rights.
BHP Billiton said companies that held shares in RBCT, but particularly itself, had given up a lot of their concessions through black economic empowerment (BEE) transactions.
Over the past 12 years, BHP Billiton had facilitated 10Mtpa of BEE capacity at the terminal.
The original port capacity was 26Mtpa and the company held a 40 percent interest in RBCT 10 years ago. After the BEE transactions and the company’s decision not to take up its rightful share in the 15Mtpa phase five expansion at the terminal, BHP is now a 21 percent shareholder in RBCT.
Over the past few years, the Richards Bay export coal line has been plagued with train derailments and delays, and terminal shareholders have blamed Transnet for low volumes.
Now the terminal has capacity to export 91Mtpa and, if its management and shareholders decide to go ahead with the sixth phase of its expansion, that could increase to 110Mtpa.
But no matter how much capacity is added, transport to the port will decide how much of that capacity can be used.
At Transnet’s results presentation, Mark Gregg, the group executive for planning and monitoring, said that only about 70Mtpa of coal was exported through the terminal at the moment. A further 10Mtpa was exported through Durban, Richards Bay and Maputo.
He said it was difficult to say exactly what the demand was for South Africa’s coal but Transnet believed it could potentially get to 115Mtpa.
“The capacity available through Maputo, RBCT and our existing coal facility in Richards Bay; between the three of those we can get to well over that 115 [Mtpa] and we also have the plan for the potential standalone terminal,” Gregg said.
In the six months to September, the period for which Transnet reported its performance last week, operational efficiency resulted in on-time departures of trains on the export coal line improving by 49.5 percent and on-time arrivals by 51.5 percent.
This was expected to improve further with the introduction of more Shongololo trains, which are pulled by dual-voltage electric locomotives.
These trains do not need to stop at Ermelo to change locomotives, significantly reducing their turnaround times. Four Shongololo trains run on the Richards Bay coal line a day and Transnet is planning to increase that to seven.
Transnet’s chief financial officer, Anoj Singh, said the development of the Swazi rail link and the Waterberg coal line, as planned during the seven years of its market demand strategy, would also ease traffic on the Richards Bay coal line. Freeing up capacity on this main coal export line would enable more coal exports. - Business Report