More than two years after a fire halted the operation of the largest conveyor belt at the Richards Bay Bulk Terminal, it is back to working order and will help alleviate truck congestion leading to the northern KwaZulu-Natal port.
Last year, “The Mercury” reported on the significant truck traffic to the port that led to Transnet Port Terminals suspending the processing of trucks carrying coal.
The conveyor belt has been out of operation since a major fire damaged three conveyor belts in 2021.
Managing executive at the Richards Bay Terminals Thulasizwe Dlamini said that 400 coal trucks will be off the road due to the conveyor belt returning to operation.
“The 2.2km conveyor belt has an output of more than three million tons per year.
“The conveyor belt is able to move coal from a site at the back of the Port to Richards Bay Bulk Terminal. The fire that happened in 2021 meant that stock piles of coal could not be transported by the conveyor belt and had to be transported by trucks.”
Dlamini added that the return of the conveyor was good news at the Bulk Terminal.
“If you think about it, this conveyor belt can transport 3 million tons of coal per year and that alone indicates how many trucks that we were actually handling at the terminal everyday. It was a short distance but it created congestion at the terminal and also affected trucks getting into the port from the N2.”
Dlamini said that other measures were being put in place to address truck congestion.
He said trucks were stopped from entering the port from December 24 until January 3.
“This was to allow holidaymakers to make their way into the city and for the community to enjoy their Christmas and New Year. An additional measure is our truck booking system used to be mainly for long distance trucks and trucks at the back of the port could just go into the port.
“From this year all trucks will need to have a booking to enter the Richards Bay Bulk Terminal if they don’t appear on our screens with a booking they won't be allowed into port.”
Dlamini added that the terminal was working on returning the remaining two conveyor belts to operation in July this year.
Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association (RFA), said the RFA welcomed the progress made at the port with the repair to the critical conveyor ship loading systems that have been off-line since October 2021.
“This aspect of the port is of critical importance to the efficient handling of bulk exports of coal, chrome and a number of other commodities. The return to operation of the first conveyor belt will have a huge positive impact on exports, revenue generation for the mines and related industries.”
Kelly added that this will add revenue to the fiscus of the country.
“Increased operations will restore international investor confidence in South Africa and strengthen the rand.
The RFA looks forward to further repairs and improvements in operations of the port.
“The pressure of numbers of trucks along the eastern routes of the country will ease as more bulk ore commodities move back to rail.”
Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, from the University of Zululand's economics department, said that the truck congestion had caused major disruptions to traffic and communities.
“It is welcomed news that the repaired conveyor belt system will result in the absence of 400 trucks on the road.
This will return the northern Zululand sub-region to normalcy. Hopefully, the port authorities learnt from the challenges and have contingency plans in place for the future.”
Jitesh Neerpath, from Jetrans Transport, said their business had been hit hard by the truck congestion.
“We have had problems with the truck booking system and it doesn't seem to work well. However, we welcome recent developments and we will wait and see if changes to the truck booking system and the conveyor belt being reopened will ease truck congestion.”
City of uMhlathuze Municipality spokesperson Bongani Gina said the municipality also welcomed the development.
“There is still a lot of truck congestion to the Port of Richards Bay. So we do need to physically see that there has been a reduction in the number of trucks. If there are 400 less trucks, it will be fantastic news.
“It will benefit us as the municipality, assist our traffic officers and benefit our residents.”
Economist Dawie Roodt said the return of the conveyor belt to operation was “good news” as the port was an important component of the South African economy.
“It will support South Africa’s exports, as it will get more things out of South Africa. Let’s hope there's more good news in future.”