SAPO gets tough with port users

May 19, 2003
Author: P&S

Port users can expect a tough time in future after SA Ports Operations (SAPO), tired of being the whipping boy of the port industry, opted last week to take a tougher stance over what it says are frequent abuses of the port terminals.

The word is that SAPO received the nod last week from about as high as one can go within Transnet to take action instead of the blame for delays that have resulted in surcharges of up to USD100 per TEU being applied by a number of shipping line cartels.

“SAPO will introduce discipline in its dealings with the shipping lines – there will be no more favours,” said SAPO chief executive Tau Morwe. In particular, he has instructed terminal managers to enforce the rules applying to overstays and late port arrivals.

Cape Town, where delays at the container terminal peaked at 80 hours a week ago, is receiving urgent attention and overstayed containers blocking the system have been removed from the terminal to another container depot at Belville. The result is an immediate improvement with ship delays reducing from 70 – 80 hours to less than 40, which Morwe forecast would drop even further within days.

Container terminal managers have been instructed to turn away transhipment boxes that are not destined for South Africa. Nor will terminals accept temporary discharges from ships going to the repair yards in either Durban or Cape Town. These discharges must go to a private container depot outside the port.

Morwe gave examples of ship delays that have made a mockery of the slot berthing system in place at the ports. He said that of 23 ships scheduled to arrive from North America, only three arrived on time.

“They tell us a ship will arrive at 10am but instead it comes at 3pm or even the next day. Imagine the chaos this would cause if it were a passenger aircraft at a busy airport. SAPO will no longer play this sort of game.”

Delays arising as a result of these reasons contribute to ships bunching outside the ports, which has led to SAPO giving serious consideration to postponing the slot system at Cape Town.

Other problems experienced by the terminals include shipping lines failing to indicate the correct number of boxes for discharge on each ship. Several ships each requiring 3 000 container moves arrived in SA ports recently, but SAPO was only advised of hundreds, not thousands. The result was that insufficient stack areas and shoreside gantry cranes were available.

But while SAPO is getting tough with port users, it is clear to onlookers that much of the blame should also be directed at those in Transnet who have delayed or even cancelled orders for urgently needed equipment for the ports. Even at this late stage the order for new gantry cranes for Durban has not been placed – the machines costing R180 million each will take at least two years to be delivered (nine months for four cranes that are being hired as a stopgap) and are desperately required.

For a port that generates huge amounts of profit each year, which Transnet uses to cross-subsidise other interests, this should be unacceptable. The excuse that concessioning is about to take place and a new operator may want different equipment holds little water, as the gantry cranes and straddle carriers can easily and quickly be transferred to Cape Town or Port Elizabeth where they are also urgently required.

Transnet takes about a billion rand in profit from Durban alone each year. Frustrated port users believe that the time is already past when more of that money should be re-spent in this port.

Meanwhile the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF), which represents the cargo owners and shippers, has urged its clients to not pay the container surcharge, which it says is based on an injustice and infringement of the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act.

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