Pressures mounting on ports as volumes increase

Apr 23, 2003
Author: P&S

The sudden pre-season increase in the number of container ships waiting outside the port of Durban coupled to a trend of more containers on board some ships is raising concerns over delays and congestion at the Durban Container Terminal.

And according to other reports, congestion is rearing its head at the port of Cape Town as well, with
delays there of up to 48 hours being reported.

So far this year the port of Durban has been operating efficiently with few delays being observed or reported, but suddenly within the past weeks volumes have increased beyond all expectations. In the past week the Durban Container Terminal handled 22,401 containers - this amounts to an average of 3,149 containers a day. At the weekend before last (i.e. 12 13 April 2003) a new daily container handling record of 4,465 containers was set, breaking the previous record of 4,000 containers handled in one day (see Ports & Ships News report dated 18 April 2003).

As Themba Gwala, South African Port Operations (SAPO) general manager for the port of Durban, has pointed out, this new record is the equivalent of handling 1,6 million containers a year or 2,1 million TEUs a year, which is 50% above the design capacity of the terminal.

He gave assurances however that management and staff were working hand-in-hand to ease the situation, and said the new record was evidence of this.

Nevertheless port users remain concerned over the slow progress with the ordering of new gantry cranes for the terminal as well as the completion of an order for 60 new straddle carriers. The straddle carriers were originally to have been delivered in total by December 2002 but at least ten of these machines remain outstanding at present.

The process for ordering three new gantry cranes and leasing a further three remains bogged down in bureaucracy and the tortoise-slow Transnet/SAPO tender process.

Many port users including some major ship owners are convinced that ship handling at the terminal can only become efficient once the port has sufficient gantry cranes to place three or even four on each vessel where necessary, such as the large volume ships now reported.

At the present rate of progress with this ordering process the container terminal is likely to have been concessioned to a private operator before the new gantry cranes arrive.

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