Durban port efficiency: Good progress, but ...

16 May 2018 | Web Article Number: ME20189946

Harbour Infrastructure & Shipping
Transport & Logistics

EFFICIENCY at Durban’s port has improved dramatically over the past few years, but there’s still a long way to go before South Africa’s biggest cargo gateway is operating at its full potential.

That was the consensus to emerge from a meeting of the Transport Forum Special Interest Group held at held at the Durban Maritime School of Excellence at old Durban International Airport site in south Durban recently.

Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) Chief Executive Nozipho Sithole told delegates, comprising key logistics role players, that much progress had been made since that time not too long ago when trucks queued for up to 36 hours to get into the harbour to pick up cargo and ships awaiting berths dotted the coastline as far as the eye could see.

Since then TPT had slashed train and truck turnaround times at its container terminals, both in Durban and Richards Bay. “Right now, we are berthing three hours after the vessel arrives,” she said, acknowledging, however, that it had yet to achieve its truck turnaround target of 35 minutes within terminals.

Much also needed to be done if TPT was to achieve its goal of becoming one of the top five terminal operators in the world within five years, Sithole said, adding that these ambitious plans had taken a knock following the devastating storm that lashed the KZN coast last October, wreaking havoc in the Durban harbour.

“We lost eight ship-to-shore cranes, some RTG (rubber-tyre gantry) cranes and some buildings. It was a trauma for the people that were at the port at that time. For three months, Durban’s container terminals were operating at between 25% and 50% of their capacity.”

She praised the resilience of ports staff and the “understanding and supportive” attitude of customers, as well as terminals across the world which had offered help in rebuilding the port’s capacity.

As a result, vessels that were once spending up to ten days in port were now leaving within four hours.

Richards Bay had also seen reduced vessel waiting times, she said, but TPT remained unhappy with equipment at the port, something that was continuing to squeeze the flow of agricultural goods there.

Turning to TPT’s broader plans, Sithole said they had plans to significantly expand their current role as a “pure terminal operator” into a “logistics service provider” offering a range of value-added services and facilities, including “inland ports”.

The South African Association of Ship Operators and Agents (SAASOA) acknowledged there had been significant improvements in port turnaround times, but agreed with Sithole that much more needed to be done.

Addressing delegates, Alex Hill, a member of the SAASOA national executive, said that Durban was not yet up to the standard of international ports like Abidjan, adding that one of the key issues that needed addressing was TPT’s “unrealistically low” turnaround targets, both with regard to movements across ships’ rails and trucks.

He said that at the height of the delays in Bayhead road five years ago, transport stakeholders had agreed on a “reasonable” total truck turnaround time of 90 minutes from the time a truck arrived at the terminal to where it was staged to exit the port.  He said that between 40% and 50% of trucks were still exceeding this and TPT appeared to have “hit a brick wall” on further improvements.

Nevertheless, said Hill, this was a far cry from a time just 18 months ago when trucks were waiting for up to 36 hours to drop off or pick up a container. “Now we have got to the point where fewer trucks exceed even six hours. So, hats off to the current management team who have achieved a lot in a relatively short period.”

 

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