“Another export crisis” facing Transnet port in Cape Town

  • Transnet has not managed to achieve a turnaround on its port operations in Cape Town, says the local DA-led government.
  • According to the MEC for Finance, further delays could cause another export crisis.
  • It seems that government is looking to find a private partner to help run the Port of Cape Town, like it did in the Port of Durban.

The Democratic Alliance (DA)-led Western Cape provincial government has put the Transnet Port Terminals officials that run the Port of Cape Town on blast for alleged failures to hit recovery targets ahead of a crucial season for exports.

According to the provincial MEC for Finance and Economic Opportunities Mireille Wenger, Transnet has missed key targets that would mark a recovery of port operations, and that these targets were even “designed to be conservative and achievable” and still they were missed.

Transnet is beholden to the Department of Public Enterprises, and not directly the government of the Western Cape.

The MEC says that the missed targets are already sparking delays at the port of Cape Town, one of the busiest ports in the country, and expected further delays could cause havoc for the country as it prepares to export citrus fruits en masse in the next few months.

“I am especially concerned that, with the citrus season fast approaching, we are heading towards another export crisis. Citrus yields are up, but all indicators show that performance at the port will not be able to handle the increased volumes this year,” Wenger explained in a statement.

She detailed the performance targets which were missed in the last four months. Instead of 26 working ship hours at the port for January, Transnet managed 22.5 hours. In April, Transnet managed 25 actual ship working hours against a target of 30.

While missing just five hours a month may seem like a small issue, these times add up when you have to manage hundreds of ships every 30 days. Small delays add up.

The MEC detailed that the average turnaround time for a single vessel at the Port of Cape Town, where it docks, unloads or loads its cargo, is properly serviced and then embarks towards the ocean again is nine full days. The target is four days.

Meanwhile, the average waiting time for a ship at sea to dock at the port is nearly five days after arriving at Cape Town, with the target of one day. Wenger adds that if delays are not corrected, the port is heading for “another export crisis.”

Delays at the Durban Port last year saw seventy thousand containers stuck at the terminal for nearly a month, in a crisis that cost the South African economy millions of Rands. To address the inefficiencies at Transnet ports, the National Treasury released a R47 billion bailout to start fixing ailing infrastructure and working on the vast maintenance backlog that caused the delays.

National Government also found a private port terminal service from the Philippines to run the busiest port in Durban in the stead of Transnet. It seems the Western Cape is looking for a similar solution, at least according to Premier Alan Winde, even if a more short-term solution is preferred.

“While we welcome the longer-term discussions about bringing in private sector role players, right now Transnet should be bringing in the top team to support port operations,” Winde said.

“I am deeply frustrated that despite commitments from the Minister of Public Enterprises, Transnet and leadership at the port since early last year, once again another critical harvest season is in jeopardy. We cannot allow this to happen again to our agriculture sector,” he added.


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