The Richards Bay port is set for a major upgrade to allow to handle a variety of dry bulk cargo. | Transnet Port Terminals.
The Richards Bay port is set for a major upgrade to allow to handle a variety of dry bulk cargo. | Transnet Port Terminals.

Richards Bay port upgrade to boost Durban

By Vernon Mchunu Time of article published May 31, 2021

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DURBAN - THE Port of Richards Bay is to undergo a historic upgrade in which a variety of dry bulk and liquefied natural gas (LNG) operations will relocate from Durban to the North Coast harbour.

In keeping with South Africa’s national ports master plan that aims to position Durban as the southern hemisphere’s biggest container hub by 2032, the Richards Bay port plan seeks to generate thousands of jobs in the energy and shipping sectors over the next 10-year period.

Following a multi-stakeholder consultation meeting on the planned expansion, Richards Bay’s general manager, Thami Sithole, presented the plan to The Mercury, saying it was complimentary to the Durban harbour’s expansion work.

The relocation of the LNG and other dry bulk operations would open up more container terminal space for Durban, restoring the harbour to its glory days as a key international attraction for seaborne business.

“At the same time vast economic spin-offs and thousands of jobs will be created for the (King Cetshwayo) district with the expansion of the port of Richards Bay,” said Sithole, who is also the president of the Zululand Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The plan will see the Richards Baybased Transnet National Port Terminal (TNPT) division relinquishing its current coal terminal operations completely to the neighbouring Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) company.

“While RBCT has been the main coal export operator in the region, TNPT has also been, for many years, assisting in the handling of coal shipment, specifically for smaller miners who do not have the technical capacity to link into the RBCT. But in order to focus on the export of the chrome mineral, other natural resources and the LNG products, we will no longer be dealing in coal,” said Sithole.

“Richards Bay has been known all these years as mainly a coal shipment port. But now we are diversifying into a hub for a range of dry bulk cargo. While the plan to deal in a variety of products gives us an opportunity to generate additional economic spin-offs, it equally enables Durban to focus on growing its

port to specialise as a major container terminal facility,” he said.

As part of the changes, Transnet was currently engaging with mining and gas operating companies that were expected to be affected by the stoppage of its coal shipment operations, a move aimed at ensuring they would remain stable.

Sithole earlier consulted the mayor of uMhlathuze Municipality, Mdu Mhlongo, traditional leaders representing 10 local communities, the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone (RBIDZ), and captains of industry, among others.

“It is important that we engage with all relevant stakeholders about this

plan. The buy-in of everybody will be important for the project to go forward smoothly,” said Sithole.

The Richards Bay plan will see the construction of several berths to create enhanced capacity for handling a number of carriers at any given time.

Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, a senior economics lecturer at the University of Zululand, hailed the plan as a sensible move from an efficiency and economies-of-scale perspective.

Kaseeram said that while the plan would relieve Durban of the LNG operations to allow specialisation in container handling, it positioned Richards Bay to become a key player in the country’s economic development. “The huge gas fields being tapped in Mozambique make Richards Bay the natural closest developed port to be used, which has the potential to assist with processing and exporting huge volumes with the upcoming expansion,” said Kaseeram.

“Richards Bay holds other advantages in that it has a functioning RBIDZ that can be developed into an energy hub.

“This is all the more feasible as Transnet has long seen Richards Bay as an LNG energy hub, from which a network of pipelines could extend inland to meet the future energy demands of our economy.”

Mhlongo described the expansion plan as being born out of a cordial tripartite alliance involving the RBIDZ, the port and the municipality, according to his spokesperson, Mduduzi Ncalane.

“Together as stakeholders we are confident that the development will have massive and positive economic spin-offs for the region, building new business opportunities and generating thousands of job opportunities,” he said.

Draft indications show that the Bayvue Precinct will be converted into a break bulk zone, increasing the available break bulk land area by 95ha. There will be a dig-out at the precinct for the provision of two additional berths, while the dry bulk land area will increase by an additional five hectares for additional storage capacity.


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