Ports & Ships Maritime News

Feb 20, 2006
Author: P&S


  • Transnet strikers to target City Deep and Johannesburg’s Metrorail today

  • New trading hours at Lebombo crossing

  • Nigeria’s Delta basin explodes

  • Nigerian port concessions take effect

  • Trial of Somali pirates continues

    EMAIL: jhughes@hugheship.com
    WEB SITE: www.hugheship.com

    Transnet strikers set to target City Deep and Johannesburg Metrorail today

    The fourth salvo of strikes across the country by members of the Transnet trade unions got underway this morning, with reports of a lack of commuter train services causing widespread pressure on taxi and bus services across Johannesburg and Tshwane. The stay away is also expected to impact on operations at City Deep, South Africa’s inland port.

    In addition to Gauteng three other provinces have been targeted for the next three days - Northwest, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

    It’s difficult to judge so early just how effective the latest block of strike actions will be – in the Eastern Cape last Friday the strike was marginal although both sides claimed success. Earlier in the week the Western Cape commuter services ground to halt severely disrupting people’s lives and congesting some streets but the effect on the ports of Cape Town and Saldanha was certainly less than the unions might have hoped.

    It was in Durban and Richards Bay where the strike, also held over a three day period at the beginning of the industrial action, struck home most forcibly, although both sides in the dispute have differing views about how effective it was. According to a spokesman for the SA Chamber of Business (Sacob) the KwaZulu Natal action cost Transnet R110 million for each day, a figure that Transnet disputes.

    What has been surprising throughout this period of industrial action is the comparative silence from shippers and shipping lines. It’s almost as if they are resigned to the inevitability of yet another drawn out saga of waiting to see who will blink first while their cargo and goods pile up in terminals. Transnet and the unions have held several meetings seeking a resolution but with so far very little to show for it, leaving the unions to accuse Transnet of having adopted a ‘take it or leave it’ approach.

    At the same time there is another suggestion, perhaps not without merit, that the unions have other motives behind their determination to delay the restructuring of Transnet companies. Throughout the process they have stressed they are not opposed to the restructuring of Transnet but have a problem with the way in which it has been communicated. There is however the feeling that behind all this rhetoric lies the desire by the unions to play a part in the restructuring, in other words to have a piece of the pie.

    Over a year ago Transnet chief executive Maria Ramos announced an 18-month timeline for unbundling the so-called non-core business units of Transnet. Her 18 months deadline is rapidly approaching but the unions, on the face of things, have still not bought into it.

    Or is it that they want to?

    New trading hours at Lebombo border crossing
    New commercial cargo clearing hours have been agreed to the Lebombo border crossing between South Africa and Mozambique. The current hours at which the commercial clearing aspect of the border is open will be extended from 6am – 5pm to between 6am and 10pm for a trial period of three months. Although scheduled for introduction on 1 June it is possible the introduction date may be brought forward. These hours will be applicable for port bound and all other commercial cargo.

    This was agreed at a meeting held between SA Customs officials and the Lebombo Clearing Agents Association (LCAA) last week (16 February). According to Danie Parsons, chairman of LCAA, security will be enhanced around customs and the agents with special security lighting. He said that Customs has learnt valuable lessons from the Beitbridge experience and is committed not to have a repeat at Lebombo Border.

    An appeal was also made by the agents on customs to engage with Alfandegas in
    Mozambique to ensure the Port Customs & Frego (Tiro) operate corresponding hours.

    In other developments, the long awaited by-pass road at the border costing a projected R16.7 million has been approved by government and work should start in the very new future. Meanwhile the Single Administrative Document (SAD) will be discussed at a workshop on 27 March between agents and customs with the view to roll out on the Maputo Corridor in the very near future.

    The Maputo Corridor Logistics Initiative (MCLI) has been lobbying for 24 hour commercial cargo clearing hours since its (MCLI) inception. The organisation described the latest development as a move in the right direction and said the extra hours would make round trips cost effective for round trips and would therefore lead to increases in cargo volumes.

    ”The MCLI also welcomes the by-pass road project, since the safety of passengers as well as the congestion caused by trucks at the limited current infrastructure was of great concern to MCLI. This was emphasized as recently as Friday 10 February when an immigration officer was injured by a runaway truck at the border.

    ”The SAD (single administrative document), which was very successfully rolled
    out on the Walvis Bay Corridor, has proven to greatly improve operational
    efficiency and we expect to experience the same fruits on our corridor.”

    - source MCLI

    Nigerian Delta basin explodes

    The Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell began evacuating an entire offshore oil field this weekend after Nigerian militants launched an attack on the Shell Forcados export terminal. Earlier nine foreign workers were kidnapped from a service barge and an oil platform set on fire.

    The nine men – three Americans, one Briton, two Egyptians, one Filipino and two Thais were taken from a barge serving a Texan-based oil services company, which was contracted to lay oil pipelines for Shell. The militants overpowered military guards on the barge and made off with their hostages.

    Shell said it was too early to evaluate the damage to the platform, which is costing the company an estimated 400,000 barrels of oil a day. It has also been forced to close down another facility after a fire broke out at a nearby oil well.

    In addition Nigerian militants have threatened to launch attacks on tankers at sea, saying they will launch rockets if the crude oil tankers approach the area “to stop them taking our oil.”

    The sudden escalation comes in the aftermath of a helicopter-borne rocket attack by Nigerian armed forces on barges thought to be in use by the militants, which the militants claim led to innocent villagers being injured. They had earlier warned they would intensify their attacks on foreign-owned enterprises if such an attack occurred.

    The militants belong to an organisation known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and are demanding that foreign oil workers leave the area. They have repeatedly threatened reprisals if the Nigerian military took action against them but also hold Shell responsible for having allowed the Nigerian air force to launch the helicopter attacks from an airfield owned by the oil company. The airfield is managed by Shell but is commonly used by both military and civilian aircraft.

    Nigerian port concessions take effect

    Following the resolution of a disputed severance package for Nigerian port workers, successful concessionaires for many of the country’s port terminals are now able to begin taking over control and operation of the terminals.

    Nigeria’s federal government reached agreement on a formula that will pay out pension and gratuities to port workers who faced being retrenched. The payment agreed will be one-off settlement amounting to a pension buy-out of five-years at an undisclosed figure but which is thought to amount to N30 Billion.

    So far two Apapa terminals and others at Tin Can Island, Onne, Port Harcourt, Lilypond and RoRo have been concessioned in a fast-tracked process that for the rest of Africa is fast in its speed of implementation, notwithstanding the four month delay over the pension settlement. There are however terminals at Calabar and Delta ports that remain unconcessioned.

    Trial of Somali pirates continues

    Details of how the US Navy seized the pirates who had captured an Indian ship captive were revealed in a Mombasa court last week.

    According to evidence from an Indian sailor, when the pirates came on board his ship they immediately the captain was assaulted for having initially ignored instructions to stop and let them board. Later when the crew was told to hand over mobile phones, the pirates became angry when they discovered there weren’t any on baord and began beating the Indian sailors severely.

    Later another ship, the Delta Ranger was sighted and some of the pirates immediately began a pursuit using their speed boats (which had been tethered alongside). However the Delta Ranger managed to evade its pursuers despite being fired upon and made its escape, also transmitting a radio distress signal to the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur. This signal was relayed to US Navy ships which was operating in the area.

    A while later the sailors heard the sound of an approaching helicopter. According to the witness he wrote HELP HELP on a piece of wood and threw it into the water. The US helicopter buzzed the ships and began firing shots into the sea around the vessel, sinking one of the speed boats, which the witness said visibly shook the pirates.

    An American witness from the USS Winston S Churchill, a navy destroyer said that after receiving a call from the IMB they had established contact with the Delta Ranger and confirmed details of the attack. The US warship then searched and located the Indian ship held by the pirates before monitoring its movements overnight. In the morning the Americans tried to radio and loudhail the ship but were ignored. Only after warning shots were fired did the ship come to a halt. After then establishing radio contact they were able to confirm there were 26 people on board.

    When the ship was boarded the Americans discovered an AK47 rifle and 24 rounds of ammunition as well as what appeared to be explosives on one of the small boats alongside.

    The case is proceeding.

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