Johannesburg - Frantic efforts to restore power at Richards Bay coal terminal are continuing around the clock after operations were crippled by an electrical fault.

About 25 cargo ships that load coal for export are waiting for terminal berths at Richards Bay harbour with train wagons carrying export coal waiting to be unloaded. It takes between 24 hours to 36 hours to load coal into one vessel at the biggest coal export terminal in Africa.

The power failure has been attributed to faults on cables that are reportedly about 38 years old.

uMhlathuze municipality spokesman Vukile Mathabela said yesterday that engineers were working around the clock to restore power.

Mathabela said: “We have engineers stationed at the Hydra sub-station, who are working on a 24-hour shift. We are hoping to restore power back to all the affected parties by [the] end of this week.”

He said Eskom was also assisting and would be adding an extra cable that would be used as a back-up in future.

RBCT, the terminal operator, said it had stock capacity of 8.2 million tons and stock levels of 3.9 million tons of coal.

The terminal can handle 90 million tons of coal a year and increased its exports to 70.32 million tons last year from 68.34 million tons shipped during 2012.

“At this stage the terminal is unable to handle any coal during the power outage,” the operator said.

The company said the cost of train cancellations and demurrage was significant. “The total cost implications to the export coal industry have not been calculated at this stage,” it said.

RBCT was not the only company affected. The power outage, which was caused when uMhlathuze municipality experienced faults on a cable that feeds one of the sub-stations, also caused disruptions at Island View Storage, Engen and Transnet Freight Rail.

RBCT said earlier this week that it had suspended all operations, including the export coal train services.

The coal terminal is unable to convey coal to the cargo vessels. Transnet Freight Rail, which runs the trains from coal producers to the terminal, said the daily loss averaged about 240 000 tons of export coal.

Transnet Freight Rail spokesman Mike Asefovitz said: “Transnet has been unable to run export coal trains. All other traffic, including domestic coal has been running as normal since the power outage.”

He said the major impact would be on customers as coal for export could not be moved.

Coal producer BHP Billiton said it was not affected by the disruptions at the terminal, while Exxaro and Anglo Thermal Coal did not comment.

“There has been continuous communication between all the stakeholders along the entire export coal supply chain on the progress made by uMhlathuze municipality,” Asefovitz said.

The entire coal value chain is expected to be operational by Sunday. - Business Report