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4 April 2011


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The new-build drill ship DEEP OCEAN MENDOCINO (60,105-gt, built 2011) is seen lying out in Table Bay at the weekend, to where the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) was called out to evacuate a 30-year old US seafarer or technician suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) and acute abdominal pain.

“Our sea rescue craft Spirit of Vodacom was launched accompanied by three Metro EMS rescue paramedics. We rendezvoused with the ship two nautical miles north of Robben Island, where the Metro EMS rescue paramedics and an NSRI rescuer were put aboard the ship and the patient was stabilised and transferred onto our sea rescue craft in a stable and satisfactory condition. He was brought to our sea rescue base in the Port of Table Bay, and transported to hospital by a Metro EMS ambulance in a stable condition for further treatment,” said Paula Leech, NSRI Table Bay Station commander on Sunday. This picture of the drill ship, which is on her delivery voyage, by Ian Shiffman

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It has to be a most difficult task yet expected of terminal operators, to find a positive spin while the notorious Cape Town south-easterly plays havoc with your schedules.

But that’s exactly what Transnet Port Terminals has attempted this week, with an announcement welcoming in April as the month when the wind stops blowing. Mind you, putting a spin on that wicked wind is nothing new for Capetonians. For generations they’ve referred to the south-easterly, the wind of sometimes gale force that blows from False Bay across the mountains and into Table Bay, as the ‘Cape Doctor’ that blows away all the ailments and pollution from Cape Town. While it may succeed in clearing the air of aerial pollution, it unfortunately also affects the working of the Cape Town Container Terminal in a somewhat drastic manner, forcing machines such as rubber tyre gantries (RTG) and ship-to-shore crane (STS) to automatically switch off.

Sometimes, so it appears, all it takes is the slightest threat of the dreaded wind for operators to reach for the off switch. The Kalmar RTGs sway in the wind, as would just about any other machine balancing on rubber tyres, and with the control cabins being that much higher off the ground than the old straddle carriers, it requires strong nerves to sit it out calmly. TPT is not admitting to this, mind you, but fear has become a factor. But in any case, when the wind achieves a certain speed the machine automatically stops operating, and the net result is that the port is experiencing far more stoppages than ever.

According to TPT, in just the first three months of 2011 the terminal has seen “62 separate wind stoppages totalling 551 hours at the terminal – more than half of 2010’s full total of 964 hours lost to wind over 83 separate occasions.” To put this another way, around nine days or 219 hours were lost to wind in January, 220 hours in February and 101 hours in March.

“We thought December 2010 was a bad month, but January and February 2011 brought us the very worst conditions with wind speeds of between 120km/h and 140km/h, and gusts up to 160km/h,” said Velile Dube, Terminal Executive for the Western Cape region terminals.

“The wind continued non-stop and totally halted operations for nine days combined in February. This meant vessels were seriously delayed. Once the terminal started operating again and the stacking yard was opened we found we were unable to process trucks quickly enough because they all started coming through at once,” Dube said.

It appears that the terminal had to schedule system downtime every four hours so that its operating system would not crash under the pressure.

According to Capetonians, the windy season is from September to March, which just happens to coincide with the peak period for refrigerated (reefer) cargo being exported from the harbour.

The problem is that Mother Nature has her own way of doing things. TPT has collected data that reflects the wind is increasing year by year and is blowing for longer periods. The worst months in 2010 were March with 145 hours lost, followed by January 2010 with 133 hours lost.

And despite all these statistics, there’s no way to guarantee that the Cape Doctor won’t come visiting during April either!

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Cape Town Container Terminal – horribly exposed to the South-Easter

Safety First

For safety reasons, port operations (this applies at the other ports as well) are stopped when the wind reaches 80km/h.

RTG cranes are currently limited beyond 72km/hour, ship-to-shore (STS) cranes beyond 80km/hour, while straddle carriers can operate safely up to 90kph. Cape Town has phased out the straddles and currently only has four remaining.

To maintain continuity Transnet Port Terminals has been running a hybrid operation in the terminal, using both the new RTGs and the old straddle carriers to transfer containers from vessels into the stacking yard.

When the wind becomes prohibitive cargo is diverted to areas of the stacking yard still being serviced by straddle carriers, which have a higher wind threshold.

The terminal has also implemented tandem lifting and dual cycle operations, where containers are discharged and loaded simultaneously from a vessel using ship-to-shore cranes. But not when the Cape Doctor is visiting!

Planning for productivity

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Velile Dube, terminal executive Cape Town

Dube said management was talking to customers as regularly as possible to plan vessels better and encourage higher productivity. This helped eliminate confusion about terminal closures and any amendments to free storage periods because of the delays.

“Our recovery when the wind subsides includes booking staff on longer 12 hour shifts for limited periods so that we increase our manpower and can operate more equipment. This obviously improves both our landside and waterside performance,” he said.

The terminal also diverts vessels to the neighbouring agricultural and ro-ro (agri-roro) section of the terminal, which is less exposed to wind gusts and can still operate even when the container terminal has ceased operation.

TPT says that outside of these wind bound periods the facility has maintained good productivity. It attributes this to better planning and streamlining of operations, as well as improved employee skills as operators become more proficient in handling the new cranes procured as part of the terminal’s five year capacity creation project.

For the last three months, the terminal has achieved an average of 25 GCH against a target of 26GCH, with performance peaking at 26 GCH in December 2010 and January 2011. GCH is an internal measure used to calculate productivity per crane, which counts the number of moves per crane per hour.

During the same period, the Ship Working rate per Hour (SWH) has averaged at 47 SWH against a target of 44 SWH. SWH is the number of containers that have been moved by the number of cranes working on the vessel in one hour. It is a key performance indicator for shipping lines.

“We are sympathetic to the frustrations of industry and have done as much as we can in very difficult, very unusual circumstances. With the end of the windy season approaching our focus will now be on improving productivity and giving shipping customers the seamless, high quality service they expect,” said Dube.

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The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) began celebrating its 13th birthday on Friday, 1 April, saying that it wanted to recognise its past achievements and was looking forward to a new era of advanced and sophisticated maritime technology and initiatives, placing Africa as the forerunners in economic growth.

In the past 13 years of its existence SAMSA has had its share of successes in the maritime field. Chief among these is the acquisition of some of the most advanced and sophisticated technology to facilitate the delivery of its mandate, that of the protection of life and property at sea and its participation in the economic sector of South Africa.

“To maintain South Africa’s rich history of seafaring, the process of developing a strong maritime industry has been underway since 1998, when the Department of Transport established SAMSA. To add impetus to our maritime progress and developments initiatives SAMSA will continue to work hard and have its presence in international maritime affairs and persist to be a regular participant in regional and international organisations like the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control, the International Maritime Organisation and the International Labour Organisation.” SAMSA said that in recent months, working with these very organisations and to fulfil its mandate of dealing with the escalating threats and risks at sea, SAMSA has installed sophisticated navigation satellite system known as the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT). This surveillance tool covers waters around Africa south of the equator and monitors and tracks vessels within that range.

“The introduction of the LRIT follows concerns over the safety of seafarers; the standard of ships within South African waters; the high levels of cargo which are at risk such as fuels and oils; the number of wrecks along the coast; and the threat of pollution of the marine environment by ships. It also serves as a mechanism to prevent piracy,” the organisation said in a statement.

Cadet programme

Also high up on SAMSA’s agenda is the successful introduction of the SAMSA cadet scheme. This is part of SAMSA’s strategy to improve the country’s maritime economy.

To counteract a lack of skills in the sector in both sea and shore based human resources, SAMSA believes the cadet programme has the potential to double or triple job creation in the maritime sector.

SAMSA says it plans to create 1800 jobs in the maritime sector over the next year, maintaining that South Africa requires at least 36,000 seafarers but currently has only 1800, of whom most are not at sea.

In 2010, SAMSA launched the Centre for Seafarers and Fishing which ensures the wellbeing of South African seafarers and fishermen by improving the reliability of adequate systems and enabling a regulatory regime.

With regards to the fishing sector, a very large component of SAMSA’s maritime constituency, the Centre will seek to provide for the welfare and dignity that remain a big challenge in this environment.

SAMSA says its focus for the future will be:

  • The importance of awareness on the importance of maritime transport to lives, economic and social development

  • The role of maritime in social, security and defence as well as ecological

  • Highlight progress made in the transformation and advancement of female seafarers

  • Promotion of maritime transport jobs and careers

  • Providing a platform to showcase the country’s maritime legacy, world class national skills; development infrastructure and programmes

  • Profiling the dignity of the seafarer
  • News continues below...


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    The first of 100 new Class 43 diesel-electric locomotives being acquired by TFR to work on the Richards Bay coal line. Picture Andre Kritzinger/Wikimedia Commons

    Yet another derailment along the strategically important Richards Bay coal line has cost the country’s mines and the Richards Bay Coal Terminal an estimated half million tonnes of exports.

    The accident occurred near Ermelo in Mpumalanga Province, blocking two lines from the mines but no other details are immediately available (and so far there has been little comment from Transnet Freight Rail). On Friday TFR said it has reopened one of the lines.

    Because of its stockpile policy RBCT says the latest derailment won’t affect immediate exports but the longer term effect is a loss of export potential. Because of derailments it is unlikely that RBCT will achieve the targeted 65 million tonnes this year.

    In 2010 RBCT exported 63.42mt of coal, again well below what the terminal and TFR are capable of. RBCT has a capacity of 91mt per year, whereas TFR says it has the capacity to rail 76mt along the line to the port but operationally finds it difficult to do.

    A minor derailment occurred on the line on 24 February, caused by the theft of cables and resulting in some spillage but was apparently soon cleared up with minimal effect on production. A month earlier on 22 January TFR had its first coal line derailment for the year, when 40 wagons of a 200-wagon train came off the tracks between Intshamanzi and Enqolothi, also near Ermelo. There were no injuries but the delivery of coal to the port was delayed as the site was cleared and the line repaired. TFR said at the time that it expected to cancel 90 trains because of that accident and the acting CEO Tau Morwe said TFR would work hard to make up the lost capacity. However, as he pointed out, a lost slot remained exactly that.

    Transnet is investing in new infrastructure, mainly new locomotives and wagons but the condition of the track in a number of places gives cause for concern, according to sources within the industry. In February 2011 RBCT exported 4.56 million tonnes of coal, while TFR delivered 5.5 million tonnes. Figures for March are not yet available.

    News continues below…


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    The Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) recently arranged and attended a two day follow up meeting about the Walvis Bay – Ndola – Lubumbashi Development Corridor (WBNLDC).

    WBNLDC is the new official name for the transport corridor that extends from the port at Walvis Bay, into the Caprivi in north-east Namibia, across the Zambezi River into Zambia and from there into the DRC (Lubumbashi), some 2,600km distant. Quite frankly WBNLDC is too much of a mouthful, even in its initialised form, so forgive us if we revert to using the older name of the Trans-Caprivi Corridor. It rolls off the tongue much easier!

    Some of the long term projects discussed included the development of various dry ports to serve the respective regions, the development of a railway connection, as well as a one-stop border post and truck stops to reduce transit time and costs along the corridor.

    Included in the discussions was the role of Spatial Developments and how it should be used to convert this transport corridor into an economic development corridor. The meeting also focused on how to create more awareness of this route to importers and exporters, improving trade facilitation and infrastructural developments, in an effort to reduce the transport costs along the Trans-Caprivi and how to make this route more competitive.

    The committee appointed at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in March last year has made significant progress to improve transit time for importers and exporters.

    Among the developments over the past five years to improve the corridor are the continuous increase in port capacity; improving immigration permits for truck drivers; the current upgrading of the Divundu Bridge and the decrimilisation of minor overload offences.

    Some of the improvements on the Zambian section include the establishment of a complete new state-of-the-art border facility which reduces border transit time at Kasumbalesa; the rehabilitation of the Livingstone – Zimba road and the construction of a new weighbridge at Livingstone; while on the DRC section of the corridor a new road has been constructed between Kasumbulesa and Lubumbashi and there has been an extension of Visas for commercial drivers.

    During an information session the WBCG used the opportunity of creating an awareness of the corridor benefits with members of the transport community, government officials and members of the WBCG itself.

    These benefits include a shorter, safer and congestion-free trade route. WBCH says that having more shipping lines calling at Walvis Bay has added tremendous value to the corridor, while having the DRC on board will result in an expansion of trade along the corridor, thus enhancing further economic growth for the DRC, Zambia and Namibia.

    “The increase of copper exports from the Copperbelt and the DRC has resulted in an increase in return loads, which has translated into the reduction of transport costs,” says the WBCG. “Commodities along this trade route include the import of raw materials such as ammonium nitrate and flocculent used in mining activities on the Copperbelt and the North Western Province in Zambia.”

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    Ivory Coast – borders sealed

    Abidjan - Cote d'Ivoire's Alassane Ouattara on Thursday ordered the closure of all the country’s borders until further notice.

    A statement from the Interior Ministry said “all terrestrial, maritime and aerial borders have been closed until further notice.”

    A few hours before this order, Ouattara, had declared a three-day night curfew in Abidjan.

    The armed forces loyal to Ouattara were on the fringes of Abidjan and were preparing to launch what they considered would be the final offensive against the regime of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

    Ouattara was declared as the winner of the 28 November presidential election by the country's electoral commission and was recognised as the president-elect by the international community.

    The dispute, which has seen United Nations peacekeepers being deployed to prevent further harm to the civilian population, has also resulted in a severe disruption to the export of cocoa from the Ivory Coast, one of the world’s largest producers.

    Gbagbo, who was declared the winner by the Constitutional Council in rejection of the electoral commission, still contests Ouattara's victory and has refused to hand over power despite diplomatic efforts, as well as economic and financial sanctions. – BuaNews-Xinhua

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    Ole Wang, Managing Director Wilhelmsen Chemicals AS

    Unitor Chemicals AS, part of Wilhelmsen Ships Service, is changing its name to Wilhelmsen Chemicals AS.

    Wilhelmsen Ships Service acquired Nalfleet earlier this year and moving forward, it will supply both the Unitor range of chemicals as well as the new Nalfleet marine chemicals portfolio.

    “With two brands under one umbrella, we need to make sure that the connection to our mother company, Wilhelmsen Ships Service is reinforced, hence the new name,” explains Ole Wang, Managing Director of Wilhelmsen Chemicals AS.

    Existing company agreements will not be affected by the name change which took place on FRiday 1 April, and the company will continue to operate from its Norwegian office in Kjøpmannskjær.

    Wilhelmsen Chemicals AS is certificated according to ISO 9001 and 14001, and will continue to focus on a premium customer service, and ongoing development of environmentally safe quality products for the shipping market.

    In addition to Unitor and Nalfleet marine products, Wilhelmsen Ships Service supplies technical services, ships agency services and maritime logistics.


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    The UK-flagged bulker BROTHER GLORY (46,211-dwt, built1998) arriving in Durban harbour last week. Picture by Trevor Jones

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    Another bulker, this time the VOGE FELIX (24,278-dwt, built 1997) seen departing Durban a short while later with a cargo of wheat for West Africa, which had been transshipped from another vessel, Cleantec at Pier 1. Picture by Trevor Jones

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