Transnet has warned that it would take until around February or March 2024 to clear the backlog affecting the docking and offloading of container vessels that are clogged up at its Port of Durban as a short-term intervention.
However, a long-term measure to get the port operating optimally will take until mid-2025 if Transnet manages to procure the necessary equipment.
This means that some goods destined for the Christmas rush in the South African market may not be on the shelves as the troubled state-owned freight and rail company works around the clock to clear the 63 vessels at anchor off the Port of Durban and offload the containers.
Of these 63 vessels stuck with more than 70 000 containers, 20 are destined for the Durban Container Terminals (DCT) Pier 1 and Pier 2, managed by Transnet Port Terminals (TPT).
Transnet acting group CEO Michelle Phillips yesterday said management at port terminals were working around the clock with industrial engineers from the task team to maximise berth performance.
With all these initiatives in place, Phillips said they expected that it will take a maximum of seven weeks to clear the backlog at Pier 1 and 15 weeks for Pier 2.
She said this would make a significant difference to the flow of container traffic through the port.
“We are looking at time lines such as February/March of 2024. However, that is still working with the current fleet. If we want these terminals to operate at an optimal level, it will require a renewal of the fleet. Otherwise, essentially it's a band aid on what we have,” Phillips said.
“Now that we have already placed the orders, the negotiations with the OEMs for us to try and get equipment into the system as a matter of urgency, the time lines that we have presented is 2024/25.”
Phillips said they would be communicating every fortnight with the industry, Transnet customers, relevant stakeholders, as well as the media industry about the port’s performance in respect of the timeline they have given themselves.
“Right now the focus is to stabilise the business to ensure that we are not beyond where we are now, trying to reduce the backlog as much as possible over the next few months, and then once we have done that we can focus on the growth of the business and optimal productivity.”
At Durban Port, TPT said these longer-term improvements include a new container management system to improve efficiencies and the acquisition of new equipment.
TPT said new contracts would be in place by the end of the year for the service of ship to shore cranes, rubber-tyred gantry cranes, straddle carriers, reach stackers and empty-container handlers, and existing equipment was being refurbished or replaced.
Under normal conditions, the container handling tempo at Pier 2 is 3 300 containers a day, but this has reduced to 2 500 over the past four weeks due to inclement weather and equipment challenges.
TPT said it planned to ramp up the tempo from 2 500 to 4 000 containers a day over the next three months at Pier 2.
At Pier 1, TPT said the tempo will increase from 1 200 to 1 500 containers a day.
Managing executive for Durban Terminals Earle Peters said initiatives were on the cards to ensure that the recovery plan to clear the backlog succeeds include the acquisition of 16 rubber-tyred gantry cranes for Pier 1 by the second half of 2025, and acquisition of four ship-to-shore cranes for South Quay for Pier 2 in the 2025/26 financial year.
Peters also said work was under way to refurbish and maintain critical port equipment to improve asset utilisation at Pier 1 and Pier 2, adding that this would be completed by August 2024.
He said while additional cranes and equipment are being sourced to make the port function more effectively, Transnet employees had been urged to put in extra efforts so that the backlog was broken.
“The delays are due various factors, including adverse weather conditions and equipment availability," Peters said.
“That is hampered operations within the month of October itself. We've lost 159 hours. For the month of September we've lost 106 hours, and this essentially has compounded the current situation.
“Last night, we had one of those severe storms again in the region. Essentially we lost four hours. That has impacted our ability to work or continue operations during that period of time, and it's becoming more prevalent.
“This has contributed to the accumulation or at least vessels that is led to current 20 vessels waiting at anchorage and amounting in region of 218 days on average waiting at anchorage.”
Meanwhile, Transnet said it will be holding an emergency meeting with other stakeholders today to find solutions to the ongoing problem of road congestion at the Port of Richards Bay.
TPT has has implemented a truck booking system as a mechanism to create order due to the truck congestion on the road; however, it said the solution does not include trucks destined to back-of-port facilities.
As a result, even when trucks have been booked, the tempo at which the trucks arrive at port gates sometimes far exceeds the pace at which trucks can be processed at the permit offices, as well as at the terminal.