The sword falls

May 8, 2003
Author: P&S

The sword that is port surcharges has fallen on South African ports with the imposition of USD100 surcharge on all containers handled at each South African port by members of the Europe Southern Africa Conference lines (ESAC).

According to the conference secretariat the temporary “port additional” will remain in place until the average delay to ships berthing in each South African port, as measured over a two-month period, reduces below 16 hours. It comes into effect on 15 May 2003, commencing with the following ships:

City of Stuttgart voyage 023.
SA Helderberg v.024
Grey Fox v.2324

SA Winterberg v.516
Safmarine Kei v.517
Golden Isle v.2325

This additional charge will be payable by the freight-payer and does not apply to international transhipment cargoes.

According to unconfirmed reports other shipping lines and conferences intend applying surcharges at all ports as from mid June, with figures up to USD200 being quoted. These include the Far East services and other independent services such as those operated by Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which handles 40 % of all containerised cargo at the port of Durban, South Africa’s busiest port.

MSC is however a member of the Safari South Africa Far East conference along with Safmarine and Maersk Sealand lines and together with these two lines on the US-SA service, where a USD75 surcharge has been applicable since 2002.

Official comment from South African Port Operations was not available at the time this went onsite but unofficially it seems the development has caught them by surprise. As recently as yesterday port officials were saying they knew nothing of any impending surcharge.

Delays at the ports of Durban and Cape Town in particular have been increasing recently, which must be worrying for all concerned as this is not traditionally the busiest time of the year when congestion might be expected. However in Cape Town delays of up to 72 hours are being reported, with ships queuing outside for a vacant berth.

In Durban similarly berthing delays have crept well past the 16-hour critical factor and the expanse of container ships waiting outside port is once again an unwanted feature on the Durban horison. The Durban container terminal recently experienced a major hiccup after two MSC ships arrived with larger than usual container numbers for discharge and with the terminal not having prepared sufficient stack space.

Adding to these worries are threats of militant union action over the port concessioning process, which will further exacerbate the issue unless the government is able to come to an understanding with organised labour at scheduled meetings next Monday (11 May).

The reasons for the congestion are many faceted but part of the problem causing delays at the container terminals lies with insufficient equipment such as shoreside gantry cranes, which is slowing down operations. The port of Durban expects to shortly commission the last of sixty new straddle carriers, which will go a long way to help alleviate problems, but the lack of sufficient gantry cranes will take much longer to fix, with additional machines not expected before 2004.

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