Winds mess with East London grain ships

Dec 23, 2002
Author: P&S

Winds are causing costly delays to ships waiting to discharge at the East London Grain Terminal.

The terminal, which is South Africa' largest, was designed as an export facility but is currently handling large imports of urgently required grain destined for neighbouring countries.

This comes after the terminal remained largely inactive for about two years, but now a conveyor system has been rigged with the aid of the Durban-based company Greystones.

The system has enabled maize to be discharged, except whenever a strong east wind blows, because operations then have to halt in order to prevent dust from being blown over a wide part of the adjacent West Bank residential area. Several local residents described the neighbourhood as looking as though snow has fallen, with parked cars disappearing under a white mantle. There are also fears that the dust may pose a health hazard.

Unfortunately almost the entire South African east coast has been subjected to strong winds in the early summer months, and the continuing wind is having a negative effect on the rate of discharge at the East London elevator.

A previous attempt to install fairly sophisticated equipment at the grain terminal enabling cargo to be discharged failed when the equipment was either stolen or fell into the harbour, depending on who is telling the story. But, with warnings of another El Nino effect on its way and food aid imports to Southern African Development Community countries likely to continue well into 2003, the National Ports Authority is seeking authority to spend between R10 and R20 million to find a more permanent solution to the dust problem.

Substantial volumes of food aid have already passed through the port since the World Food Aid programme began in about July or August 2002. This resulted in unusual rail activity from the port, with ring-fenced dedicated block trains of 35 wagons hauling the grain north via Mafikeng and Botswana. With the co-operation of Botswana Railways and National Railways of Zimbabwe Spoornet succeeded in achieving some of the fastest turnaround times ever on this Corridor.

Another remarkable achievement included the modification and repair of a quantity of damaged bulk grain wagons that were returned to service in record time with the assistance of the client's engineers and those from Spoornet.

One wonders if the same can't be done with thousands of other damaged wagons dotted around the countryside?

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