Inter-port teamwork averts East London COVID staffing crisis

12 August 2020 | Web Article Number: ME202020043

Disaster Management
Harbour Infrastructure & Shipping
Transport, Distribution & Logistics
Inter-port teamwork averts East London COVID staffing crisis
Captain Gengan Pillay

SOUTH Africa’s eight commercial ports have been supporting one another, including redeploying staff and equipment where necessary to support ports more severely affected by COVID-19, with a potential crisis at the port of East London recently proving the worth of this co-operation.

Port landlord Transnet National Ports Authority’s Acting Chief Operating Officer, Captain Rufus Lekala said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a new spirit of collaboration between the eight complementary ports in South Africa. Less affected ports have stepped in to assist by deploying members of their teams to provide relief service to keep cargo flowing into and out of the country. We have virtual meetings where we can all come together and plan across the entire network of ports”.

Last month a critical employee in the Marine Operations department at East London tested positive for COVID-19 and several close contacts in the department had to go into self-quarantine awaiting test results. The affected workspaces and the port’s marine craft were sanitised.

With East London airport still closed at that time due to the lockdown, the ports authority was able to use its own helicopter service to fly Captain Gengan Pillay from Durban to East London, to assist with vessel docking and sailing for a few days.

Pillay is a qualified marine pilot, tug master and trainer from the Transnet Maritime School of Excellence. He is also one of only a few personnel able to operate the older tugs in use at the Port of East London, which use Z-Peller propulsion unlike the newer tugs which use Voith Schneider propulsion and are more easily manoeuvred.

The Port of Richards Bay also rose to the occasion to offer support to the Port of East London, with tug master Njabulo Gina later deployed to East London to relieve Captain Pillay.

The marine personnel in East London, South Africa’s only river port, have since been given a clean bill of health and operations are back to normal.

“We are thankful for the position we have as a multi-port authority and to our port users and stakeholders for their patience while we explore and implement measures to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on our ports and on their businesses,” Lekala said.

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