Congestion fears but MSC head is optimistic for South Africa

Oct 6, 2004
Author: P&S

The onset of dozens of new super post panamax ships (8,000-TEU +) currently under construction is likely to lead to major congestion problems at world ports, and in particular those ports circling the Pacific Rim.

The latest edition of US publication CalTrade says that one by one, ‘like a line of dominoes stretching from Long Beach to Vancouver to Port Kelang to Chittagong, major ports circling the Pacific Rim are struggling under a surge in container cargo and a combination of other disparate issues that have melded into a sludge clogging the most critical artery in the global logistics network – the transpacific ocean routes linking Asia and North America.’

CalTrade quotes Mr David Lim, president of Singapore-based Neptune Orient Lines Ltd (NOL) and the parent company of US-based President Lines, as saying the problems are likely to get worse following delivery of new super large container ships.

In a recent Straits Times article Lim said that US rail services out of the Pacific ports, which had been downsized in recent years, now found themselves stretched beyond capacity to cope with double-digit growth demand. Lim warned that the provision of new infrastructure was being slowed by local objections, ranging from air and noise pollution to traffic congestion and the impact on wildlife.

A spokesman for the Hudson Bay Co, Canada’s largest retail company, suggested that the overloaded transportation corridor through Pacific Coast ports could lead to some companies seeking to divert traffic the long way via the Suez Canal to Halifax and Montreal.

The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp said recently in an article in the Los Angeles Times that the US cargo system had reached its maximum capacity with the increase in imports but there was no coherent expansion plan for transportation. Los Angeles and the adjacent Long Beach ports currently handle 70% of cargo moving between Asia and the USA and 40% of total worldwide cargo to the USA.

On the opposite side of the Pacific, Asian ports are also becoming congested with the surge in exports leaving Asia as well as raw materials flooding in. Ships loaded with iron ore and coal imports are forced to queue outside Chinese deepwater ports and other Asian ports handling containers and breakbulk exports are congested due to increased cargo volumes and labour problems.

Port Kelang, the 12th busiest container port in the world and Malaysia’s largest is said to be facing labour and infrastructure problems that threatens productivity. Port Kelang handled 4.8 million TEUs in 2003 while Malaysia expects to handle 11.5m TEUs this year at all ports. This is 13% up on the previous year which in turn was an increase of 11% on 2002.

Captain Salvatore Sarno, managing director of Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) in South Africa told Ports & Ships last week that most other ports of a size similar to Durban, South Africa’s busiest container and general cargo port, were experiencing problems of insufficient infrastructure and congestion. He said that at a recent MSC meeting held in Italy between the various heads of MSC throughout the world – about 75 MDs were present – the matter of port congestion was discussed as a major issue facing the world’s second largest container carrier.

“We shouldn’t think the congestion problems and recent lack of infrastructure in Durban and South Africa is unique. Almost every other port of comparable size to Durban is experiencing the same challenges – whether you go to Valencia, Le Havre, Genoa, La Spezia, Felixstowe, the South American ports, they are all experiencing the same problems. The situation in Durban reflects exactly that of these other ports.”

Sarno said the growth in containerised cargo was so unexpected that everyone had been caught by surprise and was unprepared. He said that in Europe it was only the really large ports like Rotterdam and Antwerp that had been able to cope with the surge.

“We should not think we are poor Africans who can’t plan properly. If mistakes were made they were mistakes that were being made by the rest of the world at the same time. Durban in fact may be one of the first ports anywhere to do something about the problem and once again we need to compliment SA Port Operations for the progressive way they are managing the challenges.”

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