Transnet has said it will push to acquire the required equipment to avoid backlogs as it resolved the Richards Bay Terminal congestion by suspending processing trucks carrying coal to restore order after unprecedented traffic coming into the port.
Transnet said it needed to raise funds to address its R50-billion infrastructure backlog.
Richards Bay Terminal’s managing executive, Thulasizwe Dlamini, said yesterday that Transnet was suspending ship-booking services for coal loads brought by trucks at least until current bookings, which run up to February 2024, were cleared.
“We have seen an unprecedented number of trucks coming to the terminal. We will temporarily freeze vessel nominations,” Dlamini said.
This has raised the ire of business, including the South African Association of Ship Operators and Agents (Saasoa), which said some containers had been delayed by weeks in some ports because of the equipment failures.
Road Freight Association CEO Gavin Kelly said, though, it was unlikely for Transnet to get on track in the short term.
“I think we are in for the long haul. We’ve been saying to Transnet that there are key operations that you need to give, or concession, to private sector. This is going to take a couple of months, unfortunately,” he said.
Transnet is struggling to process the deluge of trucks bringing in bulk minerals, coal, iron ore, manganese and chrome to export markets.
Maritime operators and fruit exporters have described as a “drastic situation” the delays experienced at the Port of Durban as an estimated 71 000 containers are stuck at sea on the back of operational inefficiencies.
Dlamini said Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) had implemented a truck-booking system as a mechanism to create order; however, the solution did not include trucks destined to back-of-port facilities.
As a result, even when trucks had been booked, the tempo at which the trucks arrive at port gates sometimes far exceeded the pace at which trucks can be processed at the permit offices, as well as at the terminal.
Transnet board chairperson Andile Sangqu reiterated yesterday that it would take at least until mid-2025 to get TPT operating optimally.
He said initiatives on the cards to ensure that the recovery plan to clear the backlog succeeded included the acquisition of 16 gantry cranes for Pier 1 by the second half of 2025 and the acquisition of four ship-to-shore cranes for South Quay for Pier 2 in 2025/26.
Sangqu said work on the refurbishment and maintenance of critical port equipment was under way and would be completed in August.
“With all these initiatives in place, we expect it will take a maximum of seven weeks to clear the backlog at Pier 1 and 15 weeks for Pier 2,” he said
“It is crucial that we stabilise our operations through these short-term interventions while we continue with the broad recovery plan to improve Transnet operations. The plan is exactly what is says it is: a plan to turn around the business and ensure significant and sustainable improvements in all our operations, and in particular in rail and ports,” he said.
He said in Durban, an urgent intervention team had already put plans in place to address slow turnaround times affecting the docking and offloading of containers at the port.
At Pier 2, the plan is to ramp up the tempo from 2 500 to 4 000 containers a day over the next three months. Under normal conditions, the container handling tempo at Pier 2 is 3 300 containers a day.