Port Elizabeth has been an important port and harbour on the South Africa east coast ever since the first British settlers began arriving from 1820. Today it is a multi cargo port on the western perimeter of Algoa Bay, 384 n.miles southwest of Durban and 423 n.miles east of Cape Town at Longitude 25º 42' E, Latitude 34º 01' S.
The first recorded reference to the area was by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias who landed and erected a cross at Kwaaihoek on 12 March 1488. He was followed by Vasco da Gama, another Portuguese explorer who became the first European to discover a sea route to India around Africa, when he passed Algoa Bay in 1497. For several hundred years afterwards the area was noted in navigation charts as a "landing place with fresh water."
Following the arrival of British settlers in 1820 the harbour achieved port status in 1825 with the appointment of a harbour master and collector of customs a year later. In 1836 a surfboat service was provided for the handling of cargo and passengers, with the first jetty constructed in 1837. Forty years later in 1877 Port Elizabeth had developed into the principal port of South Africa, albeit still without a proper harbour, with annual exports valued at the equivalent of R6 million. In 1933 construction of the Charl Malan Quay (No.1 Quay, now used as the Container and Car Terminals), was completed and Port Elizabeth now had a 'proper' harbour. "It was gratifying to note that cargo was now consigned to Port Elizabeth, not Algoa Bay, and official records of freight were also similarly styled," said the President of the Port Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce at the chamber's annual meeting in 1935.
CONTACT THE PORT
Transnet National Port Authority
PO Box 162
6000 PORT ELIZABETH
Tel 041 507 1900 or 041 507 1710 (Port Manager & Harbourmaster)
Port Control - Tel 041 507 1910
CONTACT TRANSNET PORT TERMINALS
Tel 041 507 1800
In spite of its auspicious start, Port Elizabeth remained poorly equipped for the handling of ships, with little protection from the open sea until 1935 when the Charl Malan quay was completed, followed by additional quays leading to today's modern port.
Agriculture and farming has always played an important role in the port's activities, principally deciduous and citrus fruit and the annual wool crop. More recently containers have assumed an prominent role in the fortunes of the harbour, with Port Elizabeth serving its local industrial base and forming an alternate port of call to container ships whenever the Durban or Cape Town container terminals are congested.
Other principal products handled include manganese ore, which is railed from the Northern Cape, and petroleum products which are imported from other South African ports. The motor industry has long been an important industrial activity for the Eastern Cape and the port plays a leading role in this regard and boasts a large open area car terminal. The fishing industry also makes extensive use of the port. There are no major ship repair facilities but a slipway is available for fishing vessel repair. Passenger ships usually make use of one of the fruit terminal berths when calling at Port Elizabeth.
The port's container terminal has three berths totalling 925m in length and a storage area of 22ha with 5,400 ground slots for stacking purposes. The container terminal is equipped with latest generation gantry container cranes and straddle carriers.
The breakbulk terminal has 6 berths (1,170m), two bulk berths totalling 360m and a tanker berth of 242m. The tug, fishery and trawler jetties measure 120m, 165m and 136m respectively.
The port has adequate rail and road links with other parts of the country.
The South African Navy has established a naval station at Port Elizabeth but does not maintain any ships here. In the future some of the port's present commercial activity may be lost to the new and nearby port of Ngqura (Coega) although the car terminal and possibly the container terminal are likely to remain intact.
The entrance channel to Port Elizabeth is maintained at a depth of -14.5m Chart Datum and has a generous width of 310m. Limitations on vessels using the port are 11m draught for passenger and dry cargo vessels, 11.2m for container ships, 12.1m for ore carriers and 9.6m for tankers, all according to berthing. Deeper vessels may be accommodated with the permission of the harbour master. Tug assistance and pilotage is compulsory. Ships may anchor outside the port in Algoa Bay provided the approaches to the entrance channel are kept clear.
The port has a fleet of three tugs and Pilot services are performed by a pilotboat (named Tsitsikama) or workboat. The port also makes use of a harbour launch/work boat. Port Elizabeth also has the use of two more powerful tugs listed as for the nearby Port of Ngqura.
These services are available 24 hours a day seven days a week. Dredging services are provided by dredgers from either Durban or Richards Bay as required. The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) maintains a base at Port Elizabeth.
Port Volumes: UPDATED 2015
Port Elizabeth handled a total of 976 ships during the 2015 calendar year ended 31 December 2015, with a total tonnage of 29,073,520-gt.
Cargo handled during 2015 amounted to 11,537,985 tonnes (including containers), of which 7,237,140 tonnes was bulk cargo, 1,376,353t was breakbulk, and 2,924,492 tonnes were containers.
Imports (without containers) amounted to 2,036,612t and exports 6,567,200. Transhioment cargo handled was 9,682t without containers.
The port handled 216,629 TEUs during 2015, of which 109,780 were imports including 56,719 transshipment TEUs and 1,815 for the coast. Exports totalled 106,849, including 66,337 transshipment TEUs and 461 for the coast.
Port Elizabeth's main features are the container terminal, fruit terminal and manganese terminal. The container terminal has a capacity in excess of 375,000 TEUs and has the advantage of being able to load railway trains directly under the gantry cranes, without containers having to be double handled, thus speeding up delivery to inland destinations.
There are 5,400 ground slots for conventional container handling. The terminal has three quayside gantry cranes and is supported by a number of straddle carriers. Motor vehicle components constitute a large percentage of the container traffic at Port Elizabeth, with other commodities including steel, machinery, wool, and agricultural products making up the balance.
The breakbulk terminal handles a variety of agricultural products including wheat imports and fruit (deciduous and citrus) exports as well as steel, scrap, timber and motor vehicles. At the bulk facility the storage bins have a capacity of 350,000 tonnes of manganese ore, which is the major bulk export from Port Elizabeth. Smaller volumes of other ores are also handled here.
The port offers bunker facilities at berths 13, 14 and 15 (ore and tanker berths), with diesel oil available at the Dom Pedro Quay (trawler quay).
A recent addition to port services is the provision of offshore bunkering in Algoa Bay, enabkling ships of all sizes to take bunkers in the outer anchorage.
A full range of ships chandling and stevedoring as well as other support services is available. The port houses a yacht club and marina as well as a NSRI base.
Port Elizabeth is steadily reducing the amount of container traffic that it handles, which has been transferred to the nearby port of Ngqura. Within the next few years the port will also lose the manganese and other bulk ore trade which will also transfer to Ngqura. Likewise the liquid bulk terminal is expected to relocate and this area of the port may be given over to developing the car terminal, while another part of the port is destined for tourism purposes with a waterfront project.
Interestingly a Port Infrastructure Master Plan of justa some years ago made provision for extending Port Elizabeth harbour with a new quay to the east of and adjacent to the No.1 or Charl Malan Quay. Whether such a facility will ever be built appears unlikely due to the ongoing development of the Port of Ngqura a mere 20km away.
Port Elizabeth Harbour circa 1940s. Picture T Hilton