EC ports to the rescue
24 July 2020 | Web Article Number: ME202019888
TWO Eastern Cape ports are at the centre of efforts to ensure South Africa reaps maximum benefit from a bumper citrus crop, with staff at Port Elizabeth and Ngqura working around the clock to clear an export logjam caused by COVID-19 related backlogs at the port of Cape Town.
The Citrus Growers Association’s (CGA) estimates that South Africa will export more than 140 million tons of citrus in the 2020 season, compared to 127 million tons in 2019.
It attributes this to several factors, including an early start to the season which meant crops matured earlier than in previous years, which in turn enabled South African citrus to arrive in Northern Hemisphere markets just as demand was rising and not being met thanks to an earlier than usual exit of other suppliers.
Until recently, the Cape Town container terminal had only been able to operate at 50% capacity due to high numbers of staff being affected by the pandemic, resulting in a backlog of vessels outside the port. To ensure exports continue to flow, containers are being trucked in unprecedented numbers to Port Elizabeth and Ngqura, which are both operating at full capacity.
Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) has prepared for a 13% increase in citrus volumes this year. “We remain confident in servicing industry well despite the impact of the pandemic. The fruit industry has remained a focus since the beginning of citrus season last month,” said Siyabulela Mhlaluka, General Manager: Sales and New Business Development at TPT.
Preparations for the season include ensuring power to all container terminals as well as human capital. “We have made provision for additional plug points to ensure reefer handling, leasing generator packs as back up in some areas of the business,” said Mhlaluka.
He added that while staff had worked since the beginning of lockdown, earlier constraints resulted in the container terminals across TPT operating at an average of 75% capacity. The available numbers were impacted by employees with chronic medical conditions, compromised immune systems and those over 60.
Port Elizabeth’s two new mobile harbour cranes have been commissioned and handed over to operations. Equally, Durban Container Terminal (DCT) Pier 2 was due to take delivery of 23 of its 45 new straddle carriers from the end of July.
“Regular industry engagements and integrated planning leaves us optimistic. The guided levels of operation over Level 5 cannot be isolated. Over a two-month period, the Level 5 lockdown regulations restricted the movement of cargo,” said Mhlaluka, adding that it was now all systems go.
The current R2-billion investment in replacement equipment will see an additional four rubber-tyred gantry cranes for Cape Town Container Terminal arriving in November this year. A total of 22 additional straddle carriers will be delivered to Durban Container Terminal Pier 2 in December and two rubber-tyred gantry cranes for Durban Container Terminal Pier 1 in the same period.
“We have a robust plan for replacing equipment across our terminals through to 2024 and as we have promised to industry, we are tracking according to plan”.
He said TPT continues to comply with all standard preventative measures as guided by the Department of Health. All employees are provided with the necessary PPE and care packs to assist them beyond the workplace. The company upholds daily educational awareness to prevent the spread of infections. The workspaces are regularly disinfected and decontaminated.
Breakbulk shipments to Japan and China are continuing as usual from Durban and to the United States from Cape Town.
South Africa ranks 16th in terms of world fruit production, accounting for over 50% of the country’s overall agricultural exports, according to Fruits SA. This is a total contribution of about R43 billion annually to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.