PICS: The evolution of Durban’s port

By Mphathi Nxumalo Time of article published Sep 18, 2018

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Durban - As South Africans mark Heritage Month with various events, the International Maritime Organisation, which is responsible for the regulation of shipping, also marks its 70thbirthday.

The organisation, which falls under the UN, is using the theme of “Our Heritage - Better Shipping for a Better Future” to mark its birthday.

The theme looks at its achievements and the challenges it faces in the future. Some of the challenges are the same as those faced by the Port of Durban in an ever-changing shipping landscape.

The port, according to the eThekwini Municipality’s history of it, was not much more than a sandy lagoon in the 1800s, but emerged to become one of the biggest and busiest ports on the continent.

Before the 1970s, a large percentage of the port’s exports were coal and sugar.

This, however, changed with the rise of containerisation in the 1970s. Durban focused more on containerised cargo, with Richards Bay focusing on break bulk goods (which cannot be transported in containers).

While this was happening, other terminals - such as for petrol and chemicals, vehicles and trucks - were developed, leading to the port being a “hub port” which can transport goods via road and rail. It currently handles about 65% of the country’s containerised cargo, making it the biggest in the country and one of the busiest in the southern hemisphere.

The large volumes have forced the port to constantly adjust to the ever-increasing volumes of cargo that come and go.

Peggy Mbatha, the acting planning manager at the Durban Roro (roll on, roll off) terminal, said they can currently handle up to 2000 vehicles over an 18-hour period.

The cars were imported and went to various parts of the country and the world, but the main customer base was in Durban and Johannesburg, she said.

Mbatha said the cars were normally transported by road and rail, with trains taking up to 160 vehicles at a time. To move such huge volumes, much planning is needed and communication with incoming vessels can begin up to a month before arrival.

On the container front, the Durban port can currently handle about two million 20-foot (6.1m) equivalent units (TEUs).

The maritime industry is constantly evolving, and with the rise of the super container vessels, which can handle more than 21000 TEUs each, Transnet has had to embark on an expansion project to accommodate these vessels, and to also modernise the ports to compete with the likes of industry-leading Singapore.

The Daily News’s sister paper, The Independent on Saturday, reported last week that Transnet had earmarked R7billion to accommodate these new super container vessels by 2023.

The expanding projects at the container terminal have been met with fierce resistance from environmentalists, with prominent activists Desmond D’Sa and Patrick Bond arguing earlier this year that the expansion would have detrimental effects on the environment due to the increased number of trucks entering and leaving the port.

They argued that the trucks would cause more air pollution for the south Durban community, which already has above-average cancer levels.

This is excluding alleged misgovernance the parastatal is currently dealing with.

Despite these challenges, the Durban port plays a pivotal role in spearheading Operation Phakisa, which aims to unlock and fast-track the ocean’s economy.

The programme, launched in 2014, aims to have a GDP contribution of R129bn to R177bn by 2033, creating an estimated 300000 jobs.

With the move to smart port cities, the Port of Durban is faced with new challenges, which include not compromising security, yet being accessible to the public.

How the city faces these new challenges could determine the heritage it passes on to future port users.

Daily News

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