When the R7billion project will reopen is anybody’s guess, as it involves investigations into possible corruption or at least irregularities over the awarding of the contract. That this is happening now, almost 10 years after the completion of the widening and deepening of the harbour entrance, is a separate scandal in itself. Why do the work back then if bigger ships would be unable to enter port fully laden for the next decade?
One thing that can be said in its favour is that it became safer for ships coming and going from the port. The cost then amounted to R3.2bn, which sounded and was a lot, but had it been deferred until now then the cost would probably have been double - maybe even as high as R10bn.
We also highlighted the lack of progress involving the much-vaunted cruise terminal, a 25-year concession involving MSC Cruises and a black empowerment partner who are operating as KwaZulu Cruise Terminal Pty Ltd (KCT), to finance, construct, operate, maintain and transfer a new cruise terminal facility.
The project has also experienced delays, but in a response from Transnet National Ports Authority this week, the acting port manager of Durban, Nokuzola Nkowane, said KCT was “finalising the detailed design of the Cruise Terminal Building. The anticipated commissioning of the (R200million) project is still October 2020 as previously communicated”. It was originally said to be this year.
Yet another project that appears to be dragging on concerns the neglected ship repair facilities at Bayhead. Durban remains the busiest port in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 3000 ship calls each year of which a certain percentage will require maintenance and repairs. That’s on top of others that companies will negotiate to have them come to Durban for repairs and maintenance.
The dry dock lacks working cranes. This has been a serious deficiency for many years, forcing ship repairers to rely on hired cranes at an added expense, whereas by rights the dock should be properly equipped.
The floating dock owned by TNPA remained out of commission for many years. Age has nothing to do with it - the dock was acquired at the same time Elgin Brown & Hamer acquired its floating dock, which is properly maintained and going strong. Since then Transnet’s dock has sunk once and remained out of commission.
The problems over the caissons or gates of the graving dock have been reported on many occasions.
Durban, thanks to its strategic position and volume of shipping traffic has the potential of becoming a principal place to undertake ship maintenance and repair, but various factors including those outlined count against this. Another is the cost of using the port facilities, which is not conducive to attracting business when competing with ports in other parts of the world.
Merchant ships travel continuously from one end of the globe to another. Unless there is an incentive or advantage in having repairs undertaken in one port, they can go elsewhere, even when that is halfway across the world.
Coming ashore, Durban’s frustrations are not over. For years, the matter of truck congestion outside the port has been aired and discussed and enough hot air probably produced to fire up one of Eskom’s problematic power stations.
Bayhead Road requires urgent attention and widening. An alternate route in and out of the city is another option, as are staging parks where trucks can park and wait for a call to approach the port.
The trucking industry needs to be better catered for, with road access from the Clairwood and areas south of the port in particular requiring improvement. Maydon Wharf Road is in need of better control, instead of permitting it to remain a staging post for lorries bringing or taking bulk commodities.
It’s worth remembering that it is not just an accumulation of container lorries that are causing concern but other “heavies” such as road tankers plying their trade to and from Island View, but forced to use Bayhead Road. Likewise with large articulated vehicles carrying manganese ore, coal, magnetite, grains, timber and other heavy commodities handled at the port.
Container traffic, as shown by the 2018 results, is growing at an encouraging rate. Bulk commodities, too, are increasing in volume - the problems facing Durban in catering for this road-based traffic won’t go away but will get worse.