South Africa’s ports expanding

If the thought of an event focused on dredging and port expansion makes your eyelids heavy, consider this: Africa is experiencing a significant increase in trade with growing volumes of cargo at all African ports, and an expected surge is forcing port authorities and operators to increase capacity, analyse operations, and employ measures to allow bigger ships into their ports.  

This is according to the website of — you guessed it — the fourth annual Dredging and Port Expansion Africa event, which took place earlier this year in Durban.  Its stated purpose is to focus on “partnerships for new projects, port accessibility and congestion management,” and provides strategies “on how to develop your ports and terminals and decrease the cost of doing business in Africa”.  

“With port development in Africa projected to grow strongly to meet this demand, new projects are being announced, creating exceptional maritime business opportunities as ports strive to deliver world class service facilities and efficiencies,” the website further reads, pointing out that reconfiguring port layout, increasing berths at existing ports and conducting dredging more often have been other strategies that numerous ports have employed to meet this need.  

In 2012, Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) — one of five operating divisions of Transnet SOC Limited, South Africa’s state-owned freight and handling company — announced that it would spend R33-billion on upgrading and expanding South Africa’s ports as part of a state-led infrastructure drive, aimed at boosting economic growth in the country.  

The upgraded Cape Town Container Terminal (CTCT) was named one of the world’s top 120 container ports by the 2013 Container Management Report, which rates international container ports based on terminal volumes and competitiveness.

According to the TPT website, billions have been invested in a multi-phased terminal upgrade plan, of which phase 1 has already been completed.  “This includes the extending of the quay wall by 10m over the entire 1?137m length of the quay, at a depth of 15.5m,” states the website.  “Phase 2 will increase capacity from

1 million TEU to 1.4 million TEU. The upgrade includes the construction of 2 700 reefer plug points, totalling 3?752 points.

“The first upgrade has allowed the terminal to receive and service 8?000 TEU vessels [with] 19 containers stacked across eight-high on deck with ease. The six new super post panamax ship-to-shore gantry cranes have improved service levels to customer vessels considerably by maintaining a world-class standard of 32 gross crane moves per hour (GCH) since the beginning of the current calendar year.”

In KwaZulu-Natal, R3.7-billion was set aside for upgrades at the Richards Bay Terminal — it handles more than 80 million tonnes of cargo a year — including mobile equipment, quayside equipment, and weighbridges, as well as safety-critical, environmental and legal compliance projects. TPT also announced that it would spend R1.2-billion on creating new capacity, including new storage areas at the port.  

Upgrades at the port began in July 2012 with the arrival of a custom-built pneumatic ship unloader — only the seventh of its kind in the world — produced by a Swiss shipping manufacturer.  The unloader, which is one of the terminal’s largest assets, has the capacity to unload 1?000 tonnes per hour.  

Three main expansion projects are also planned for Richards Bay, namely the Port Capacity Expansion Project in the Bayvue precinct, the 500 and 600 series terminal expansion for additional dry bulk and the development of a new coal terminal with a capacity of 32 million tonnes of cargo a year as part of the 500 series development.  A ship repair and dry dock facility and an additional two-berth liquid bulk terminal are also part of the plans.  

The Port of Durban is South Africa’s principle port. It is also the country’s main container port, handling 65% of South Africa’s container traffic.  It services KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Southern African hinterland.  

Durban handles close to 5?000 commercial vessels every year. This is the highest number in South Africa and translates to an impressive 74 million tonnes of cargo per year.  

This figure is expected to be in the region of 175 million tonnes of cargo per year in 30 years’ time, with major growth being forecast in containers and bulk liquid handling, and moderate growth in automotive cargo.  

According to TPT, “There is potential to improve throughput capacity by reconfiguring and rationalising the existing precincts of the Durban Container Terminal (DCT), Point, Maydon Wharf and Island View.”  

Major expansion projects in the short term include deepening of the North Quay and infill at Pier 1 of DCT, berth reconstruction and deepening at Island View and Maydon Wharf and the development of a new dedicated passenger terminal.  

As part of this project, a year later, it unveiled seven new ship-to-shore cranes at the DCT Pier 2 as part of its accelerated crane fleet acquisition programme, aimed at boosting productivity and efficiency.  At the time TPT announced in a statement that the cranes “are the biggest in Africa and can handle new-generation vessels with 24 containers stowed across the deck”. 

While the ports of Durban and Richard Bay are being upgraded, the new dig-out port at Durban’s old airport site is expected to complement them. The dig-out port will be able to provide liquid bulk handling capacity and will provide more than 20 new deep-water berths.  

It will include container terminals, automotive terminals and a four-berth liquid bulk terminal which will be able to berth VLCC vessels which are currently restricted to offshore moorings.  

The first phase of construction of the port is expected to start between 2021 and 2025.  Although residential communities and ecology groups have expressed reservations about the new port, companies such as Toyota and the Sapref oil refinery have welcomed it.  The former has a large vehicle-manufacturing site adjacent to the new port, and the latter also borders the site.  The movement of goods to awaiting ships will therefore be easier and more economical.  

According to TPT, upgrading the Durban port forms part of a national, regional and local plan to enhance the total logistics of doing business in South Africa by improving rail and port connections countrywide. 

Riaz Randeree, a Durban-based businessman who imports food products from Malaysia, has already felt the positive impact of upgrades to the existing port on his business. “The ships are being offloaded much faster and the turnaround times are much faster. I’m expecting my next container next weekend, and (unlike before), I’m expecting it to be cleared with ease.”

Other industries have also enjoyed a positive kickback from the upgrades.  Salim Cassim, the chief executive of Apex Asphalt, says that the company’s BEE franchisees have already benefitted from upgrades to the Durban and Richards Bay ports.  

“We have made tremendous inroads with Transnet — we’ve been busy with both ports, Durban and Richards Bay, in terms of infrastructure development,” he said. “Port upgrades were most definitely welcomed in my industry, which is civil engineering.”