Coals ships left South Africa for China for the first time in four years during 2020 as trade tensions between Beijing and Canberra escalated, presenting an opportunity for local producers to plug the gap. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi
Coals ships left South Africa for China for the first time in four years during 2020 as trade tensions between Beijing and Canberra escalated, presenting an opportunity for local producers to plug the gap. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Richards Bay Coal Terminal benefits from Beijing and Canberra stand-off

By Dineo Faku Time of article published Jan 28, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - COAL SHIPS left South Africa for China for the first time in four years during 2020 as trade tensions between Beijing and Canberra escalated, presenting an opportunity for local producers to plug the gap.

Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) chief executive Alan Waller told journalists during the presentation of the group’s financial year yesterday that roughly 654 000 tons of coal were exported to China in 2020.

Waller said three more vessels left Cape Town for China this month, charging that the RBCT was optimistic that the exports presented an opportunity into the future.

“We will certainly assist the industry where possible to facilitate that process as best as we can to make sure that South African coal is attractive if that opportunity does present itself,” said Waller.

Australian coal ships stopped exporting to China after Beijing unofficially banned Canberra from its list of imports and sought deliveries from other countries. South African coal exports were, however, lower with only 70.2 million tons from 72.2 million in 2019 as Covid-19 rocked the domestic and global coal industry.

Waller said RBCT was satisfactied with its performance given the challenges faced by the value chain.

“We probably could have done better, and there is always more coal to move,” he said. “But given the challenges that the value chain faced, this is a stellar performance in our eyes as a terminal.”

Waller said 869 vessels were loaded in 2020, down from 886 a year earlier, and that the RBCT was aiming to export 77 million tons in 2021. “At this stage, and given the infrastructure we should target exporting the 77 million to 87 million tons in the short to medium term,”said Waller.

RBCT has the capacity to export 91 million tons annually, with 4 million allocated to the Quattro Export Entitlement for junior mining companies. Only 2.7 million out of the 4 million tons was currently allocated.

In 2020 RBCT moved 2.1 million tons on behalf of junior miners, an improvement on 2019 when the port did 1.9 million tons.

Waller said 92 percent of South African coal was exported to Asia, with India and Pakistan taking the lion share of the coal. Exports to the rest of the African continent accounted for 5 percent, while 3 percent of exports went to Europe.

He said African exports declined 1 percent from 2019, predominantly because there were 450 000 tons less coal exported to Morocco.

According to reports, South African deliveries into Morocco accounted for just 1 percent January-November, compared with 6 percent in the same period a year earlier as the country relied heavily on Russian imports.

“Given the challenges that Covid19 pandemic brought, this is not a bad performance, although it is certainly not at a level where RBCT would like it to be,” Waller said.

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