“What seemed an impossible task when first contemplated (each locomotive weighs 72 tons) has been achieved by our team, from our landing at Lungi Airport in Freetown on March 26, 2019, to securing the Sierra Leonean government’s support, contracting the logistical expertise and assets from around West Africa and safely executing a complex landside operation to delivery by sea to Durban, only four months later is really remarkable,” Grindrod Rail chief executive Andrew Thomas said in a statement yesterday.
The locomotives arrived in Durban on July 14 from Freetown, Sierra Leone.
The locomotives, owned by Grindrod, the JSE listed freight and financial services company, had been contracted in 2012 to haul iron ore from Tonkilili Mine to Pepel Port in Sierra Leone.
At the end of 2017 mining operations came to a halt and the counter party defaulted on their lease hire and maintenance payment obligations, he said.
“The recovery of the locomotives will allow the realisation of their value through deployment into new contracts.
"A further four locomotives recovered at the same time have already been delivered from the same vessel, to a client in Matadi, DRC, en route to South Africa,” he said.
At the request of the Sierra Leone government, a further 10 locomotives have remained in the country, while efforts were made to resuscitate iron ore exports.
Depending on the success of those efforts, these locomotives would either be entered into new long-term contracts there, or will be shipped back to South Africa at the end of the year.
The shipment was complex as the port of Pepel was not deep enough to receive the large vessel required for the shipment, and there is no railway line from Pepel to Freetown.
All 24 locomotives were railed some 75km to a transshipment facility established close to the town of Lunsar, where the body of each locomotive was lifted off their bogies by a mobile crane contracted from the neighbouring country, Guinea, and loaded on to specialised trucks.
From there they were transported for 200km on a mixture of tar and dirt roads, avoiding weak bridges and other obstacles, to Freetown port where they were re-assembled with their bogies and loaded on a heavy lift project vessel for shipment to Matadi and Durban.
Grindrod chief executive Andrew Waller said that they were in an advanced stage of negotiations to contract the locomotives out to new operators.