Photo Bernd-dittrich/Unsplash
Photo Bernd-dittrich/Unsplash

71 000 containers stuck at Durban port

The increased congestion and delays at the harbour meant many cargo owners have now lost significant contracts with vessels waiting two weeks to berth in the harbour.
Na'ilah Ebrahim
Almost 71 000 containers are stuck on ships outside the Durban port, which is battling equipment breakdowns.

This is according to the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF), which estimates that the 70 955 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs, a measure for shipping containers) are the equivalent of nine days' worth of cargo.

Head of Research and Development at the SAAFF, Jacob van Rensburg, said the cargo "desperately needed to be offloaded".

Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), which manages the Durban Container Terminals (DCT), estimated that it would take Pier 1 seven weeks to clear the current backlog and 15 weeks (or less) for Pier 2.

On Friday, some 63 vessels were outside the port, with 20 destined for the DCT Pier 1 and Pier 2, TPT said.

TPT said the port's ship turnaround time is currently 77.2 hours – a third longer than its target of 50 hours. Truck turnaround time is 79 minutes against a target of 65 minutes.

The Durban port is currently estimated to be one of the most congested in the world by an international data service. It is ranked 341st out of 348 ports worldwide for performance.

CEO of Capital Equipment Group, Tony Sinclair, describes the port as "chaos". His company distributes construction equipment to mines.

Speaking to News24, Sinclair said he had R80 million worth of stock stuck in the harbour, with imports taking up to 28 days to dock.


The increased congestion and delays at the harbour meant many cargo owners have now lost significant contracts with vessels waiting two weeks to berth in the harbour, Sinclair said: “I could not get spare parts out of the harbour because they are stuck in the containers. I have to use air freight stock to get goods in the country, so I am now paying double [to get my stock here].”

Sinclair added that his company needed to allocate R100 million for a working capital injection to cope with delays.

This week, Woolworths said it struggled to get clothing, beauty and home imports in time for summer due to port congestion.

Sinclair says businesses cannot afford to add two weeks to their lead times – especially around this time of year, which is a notoriously busy time for shipping and moving cargo.

Apart from the costs related to the delays, shipping giants are now also levying congestion surcharges on South African importers.

Shipping liners CGA CGM, Maersk, and MSC recently announced the implementation of congestion surcharges of between $200 (R3 643) and $1 000 (R18 218) per shipping container for all exports to South African ports from 3 December.

TPT said that it is in "engagements" with the shipping lines to "see how we can support the shipping lines to remove the surcharge with minimal impact to SA economy".

The congestion is due in great part to equipment problems at the Durban port. Only 46% of straddles (equipment used to stack and pile containers) were available at the port last week, according to the SAAFF.


Two cranes are also out of commission for an unknown amount of time with the recommissioning of a third crane continuously postponed, the organisation says.

TPT Durban Terminals managing executive Earle Peters said the immediate focus now was stabilising operations through short-term interventions. This included a recruitment drive to fill positions for a newly implemented fourth shift.

Spares and maintenance services contracts will be awarded for cranes and stackers before the end of the year.

TPT is also sourcing second-hand cargo handling equipment as a temporary measure. The company is also in the process of finalising long-term partnerships with original equipment manufacturers, which is expected to be concluded in December 2023.

"This will address the acquisition of new equipment and the availability of long lead spares," says TPT.

In 2025, Pier 1 will replace 16 rubber-tyred gantry cranes and Pier 2 will acquire 36 straddle carriers. Then in 2026, Pier 2 will acquire four more ship-to-shore cranes.

In July, it was announced that Filipino ports giant, International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI), would upgrade and expand Pier 2 in partnership with Transnet.

The plan includes increasing container capacity at the entire port from 3.3 million containers to a capacity of 11.4 million containers.

South African ports are currently in crisis, with container volumes shrinking to levels last seen 14 years ago, according to SAAFF data.

According to Van Rensburg, cargo owners have begun looking at alternatives, with other African regional ports increasing their share of exports and imports.-Fin24


Allgemeine Zeitung 2024-04-19

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