As plans change, users weigh in on port

28 August 2016 - 02:00 By NOMPUMELELO MAGWAZA

Transnet has put on hold its plan to develop the old Durban airport site into a dig-out port, but other projects to boost capacity at the existing Durban harbour are well under way. This week Transnet said that it had postponed until 2032 its plans to design and construct the Durban Dig-out Port "based on current forecasts" for capacity.Transnet, which bought the airport site from Airports Company South Africa for R1.25-billion in 2012, previously said the first phase of the project, which was expected to cost between R70-billion and R100-billion, would be finished by 2020.More pressing now for Transnet is to increase capacity at the existing port, and find ways to ease congestion on roads leading to the harbour, which are frequently clogged with trucks.A report this week by BMI Research said the research company was "upbeat on the progress of planned upgrades at the Port of Durban given the strategic importance in maintaining South Africa's strong logistics profile and meeting the import and export needs of the country's economic hub, Gauteng".story_article_left1But Dave Watts, a maritime consultant for the South African Association of Freight Forwarders, said the BMI analysis, although welcomed, had omitted any discussion of the major concerns port users had."These concerns are the level of acceptable service offered by the container terminals operating company both on the waterside and landside," he said.Watts added that the inability of rail to increase its share of container movements to and from the port - less than 20% currently - did nothing to relieve the situation on city roads and national highways.He said although efforts to increase design capacity were required, it was essential that infrastructure developments should coincide with the necessary improvements in service levels, along with the building of new roads and rehabilitating existing roads to provide road access that was fit for purpose."Any increase in container handling will only exacerbate the already difficult traffic situation in that area," said Watts.Expansion plans at the Port of Durban are part of Transnet's market demand strategy - announced in 2012 - in terms of which the state-owned company is investing about R300-billion over seven years to upgrade and expand South Africa's rail, port and pipeline infrastructure.The investment's main objective is to create capacity ahead of demand.Projects to boost capacity include deepening the berths and filling in of Salisbury Island to extend the capacity of the container terminal, the busiest in South Africa.The deepening of berths and the Salisbury Island infill project will increase the container terminal's total capacity to 5.3million twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, from the current 3.6million TEUs, by 2022-23.Other projects will increase the liquid bulk capacity at the Island View precinct, where chemical and petroleum products are handled.block_quotes_start At the end we will all benefit and we hope that we will soon be welcoming bigger vessels at the port, which will grow container volumes block_quotes_endThe Transnet National Ports Authority, which provides port infrastructure and marine services at South Africa' s eight commercial ports, is also planning to construct a Durban passenger terminal. The tender process for this is already under way.BMI's outlook indicates that, despite economic headwinds, Transnet has a strong business case to carry out moderate upgrades at the port."Transnet is eager to tackle congestion at the port in order to improve the ease of doing business, ensuring that South Africa sustains its strong logistics profile in sub-Saharan Africa and remains cost-competitive globally," said Merisa Lourenço, an infrastructure analyst for sub-Saharan Africa at BMI Research.Anton Clarke, MD of the Indian Ocean Export Company, said: "Allowing larger vessels will improve efficiencies of all the major carriers, who will be able to include Durban Port on their schedules."He said his company was satisfied with the ongoing infrastructure developments, which should, he said, support a growing economy.He was, however, not sure how much planning had been put into the landside expansion. "There are already significant issues with truck congestion at the port. This is one of our major problems," said Clarke.story_article_right2Peter Besnard, CEO of the South African Association of Ship Operators and Agents, said: "A lot of the expansion projects seem to be going very well and it looks like Transnet will be able to finish them on time."Besnard, whose association represents a number of shipping companies, added: "At the end we will all benefit and we hope that we will soon be welcoming bigger vessels at the port, which will grow container volumes."But he concurred that Transnet had not addressed the issue of road congestion around the port."They have not done any work on Bayhead Road [which leads to the container terminal] and that is a very critical issue for any port user."However, "although we have experienced some glitches, we think Transnet is trying to make port systems operate smoothly", he said.On the issue of how it is dealing with congestion around the port, Transnet said: "The Port of Durban is introducing a wireless broadband solution as part of systems that will immediately alert all stakeholders to congestion at the gates or vessel delays, or to problems when systems at the Transnet port terminal's Navis [which provides real-time shipping information] are down. 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