290910 Transnet Richards bay port.Domestic exports to between China and South Africa seem to have hit a Plateau.photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi 453

Londiwe Buthelezi

An additional berth for junior coal exporters in Richards Bay, acquisition of land to expand the ports of Richards Bay and Durban, and the possibility of erecting liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities in some commercial ports are the latest additions to Transnet’s harbour plans.

The state logistics utility held a stakeholder engagement session in Cape Town yesterday at which it tabled its updated port development plans.

It was one of six sessions organised by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) around the country.

Although there are expansion restrictions on some ports because of their proximity to towns and communities, the TNPA’s planning and development manager, Desmond Simpson, tabled plans showing that all ports, including Port Nolloth, could look completely different in the long term if all Transnet’s plans materialised.

In the port of Richards Bay, the TNPA is looking at acquiring 1 500ha of land, allowing it to expand from the existing port in the direction of the N2.

If the TNPA’s plan to rehabilitate the existing terminals succeeded, Simpson said it would add two berths for break-bulk cargo.

As Transnet previously indicated, it would then look at developing a stand-alone coal facility for junior mining firms if there were volumes to support it. But that would happen only in the medium term (up to 2042) to long term.

“There is also an opportunity to convert berth 702 from an import to an export berth to create additional capacity for junior mines,” he said.

TNPA had put together a discussion paper that would be presented to its executive committee on whether Richards Bay should cater for LNG. Other ports that were potential hosts for LNG terminals were Ngqura in the Eastern Cape and Saldhana on the West Coast.

The TNPA needed an exclusive zone of about 500m around vessels in order to be able to handle LNG, he said.

Chief TNPA planner Nimi Ramchand said that according to industry guidelines, LNG facilities should be at least 1km away from communities, which was why Transnet was looking at only these three ports.

The TNPA had been looking at the possibility of catering for LNG for more than six years. The previous leadership at Transnet adopted a position that under no circumstance should South Africa handle LNG at its ports because of the dangers associated with it, such as explosions.

But Simpson said the TNPA had studied a number of foreign ports, and the areas in which it was looking to develop LNG facilities would ensure any problems would have a minimal effect on communities.

In Durban, the TNPA would start acquiring the Bayhead marshalling yards in the short term (up to 2019), which would mainly serve the container terminal.

In the medium term, the TNPA would start rehabilitating 15 berths along Maydon Wharf. It said tenders had already been awarded.

When this was completed, there would be seven berths that could handle larger and deeper-draught vessels.

The TNPA wanted to develop not only a car terminal in Port Elizabeth but also warehouses and value-adding facilities to bolster the motor industry hub in the Eastern Cape.

“If we import a car we could just import a shell with an engine. And then we can have companies that put in the seats, radio… and then you’ll create jobs,” Simpson said.

Transnet’s framework plan is revised every year to adjust for economic developments, demand dynamic and policy and technology changes.