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South African rail, port and pipeline entity Transnet has said it is ‘fully focused’ on addressing the problems of chronic congestion at Richards Bay and backlogs at the Port of Durban, as container shipping giants CMA CGM and Maersk remove Cape Town as a port of call on their schedules.

In a statement issued yesterday (20 November), Transnet said that the current port delays are due to a number of factors, including adverse weather conditions and equipment availability.

‘The problem of port congestion is a complex one and it is something that was due to happen at some point, as a result of many years of underinvestment in equipment and its maintenance. We are working on a number of measures to turn the situation around, said Transnet Board Chairperson, Andile Sangqu during a media briefing.

However, Sangqu cautioned that the situation may not be quickly reversed as the lead times for some equipment can be 12-18 months.

Transnet is said to be prioritising the optimisation of port operations through improved planning and forecasting, leading to better anticipation of cargo volumes.

In Durban, an urgent intervention team has already put plans in place to address slow turnaround times affecting the docking and offloading of containers at the port.

At Pier 2, the plan is to ‘ramp up the tempo’ from 2,500 – 4,000 containers a day over the next three months. Over the past four weeks, container movements have been reduced to 2,500 due to inclement weather and equipment challenges. At Pier 1, movements will increase from 1,200 to 1,500 containers a day.

Work is also underway at Durban to refurbish and maintain critical port equipment to improve asset utilisation at both piers.

According to Transnet, with the plans it has now set in train, the expectation is that it will take a maximum of seven weeks to clear the backlog at Pier 1 and 15 weeks for Pier 2.

Transnet and other stakeholders will also be holding an emergency meeting today (21 November) to discuss the ongoing problem of road congestion at Richards Bay.

Transnet’s statement about its plans to address congestion at the country’s ports comes a week after CMA CGM and Maersk announced their intention to drop Cape Town from their schedules from the start of December.

In an update issued last week, Maersk said that: ‘South Africa, which is facing congestion, will get connected on a dedicated feeder service via Port Louis and be delinked from the FEW service in order to improve reliability and transit time.’

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