Transnet says its teams are working on an urgent programme to procure the necessary equipment at the country’s congested ports. This, as some 17 shipping vessels anchor off the Port of Durban, waiting to offload cargo inland.
Waiting times are said to be anything up to 20 days, which is costly for shipping companies and their clients, who need the cargo to get to market promptly. While Transnet says it’s hard at work to procure equipment to ensure port efficiencies, its chairman says chances are they’ll only be able to get the equipment in anything between 12 to 18 months.
Procuring the necessary capital equipment to help solve Transnet ports’ capacity issues is one thing, but the company needs funding to make this happen and it’s not yet clear where it will secure that funding from. Even if the state-owned logistics company does secure the necessary funding, getting the country’s ports into an improved force is going to take time.
“We need to caution that this is going to take time and nothing is going to happen overnight. We have indicated many a time that we would need to invest in the following: the first one is that of improving our infrastructure. Many of our infrastructure equipment has deteriorated and has passed its economic useful life and this is as a result of many years of under-investment and many years of under-maintenance. And this, of course, has resulted in the backlog in our infrastructure, both in terms of the rail as well as our port infrastructure,” says Andile Sangqu, Chairperson of Transnet.
Freight industry players say the current port congestion challenges and Transnet’s inefficiencies were inevitable, given the prior lack of investment in port infrastructure. However, they say they have confidence in the recently installed new management, but add they won’t get far without the support of government.
“I’m much more positive that she has the right thinking about where she can take the business in particular on the port side, which she has a lot of experience. Without money? Unless she can get right assistance … very high-interest costs,” says Dave Watts: South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF).
In the long run, Transnet says to better and compete with other ports, it needs to focus more on the training and skills development of its current employees. It needs to rapidly incorporate technology in its systems that will better enable the automation of processes like cargo handling and thereby reduce waiting times.
Transnet’s chair says a key lesson has been the need for much better planning and forecasting of container volumes, so as to better anticipate and manage these flows. He also says that the blame game is not going to help the country at this juncture.
“I must say, though, that what is important is for us to cooperate and collaborate and certainly, it won’t help us during these times of challenges to be pointing fingers. We’d like to see a better collaboration with our customers, better collaboration with all the stakeholders, our employees, our trade unions and government, so that we can be able to redefine the new trajectory that will help us to, not only improve, the efficiency of our ports and our logistics, but would put us in a better trajectory in terms of growing our economy,” Sangqu added.
While Transnet appears to be making the right noises, there’s still no guarantee that it will get funding to ensure the necessary changes it seeks to put in place. This, as the logistics company also battles with a 13 billion rand per annum debt service cost fee.
Meanwhile, some 17 ships with their crews and highly valuable cargo hang at sea, unsure of when they’ll next be able to proceed.
Video: Transnet working on urgent programme to procure the necessary equipment at congested ports