Durban Harbour Prepares for R14,8bn expansion

Currently the Durban port which handles the greatest volume of sea-going traffic in southern Africa and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere is choking with both imported cargo and that for export from South Africa and the whole region. According to the port authorities during the 2005/06 financial year ended 31 March 2006, the Port of Durban handled a total of 4,551 sea-going ships with a gross tonnage of 94,543,236 which was equal to almost 36 percent of all ports in the region combined. Total tonnage handled by the port constituted 43,584,358t of imports, 25,206,730t of exports and 283,371t of transhipment cargo giving a total tonnage for the port of 69,074,000 tonnes. Bulk cargo handled at the port in 2005/06 was 34,975,264t, of which imports were 26,618,404t, exports were 8,158,057t, and transhipments totalled 198,803t. Because of ever increasing volumes at the port, the authorities feel there is urgent need to expand. According to media reports from South Africa, planning and environmental impact assessment studies for the proposed R14,8bn extension into the Bayhead area of Durban’s port need to start as soon as possible, as stressed by Basil Ndlovu, the port manager. The rate of growth in container traffic through the port ‘ 16 percent-18 percent a year for at least the past five years ‘ means the “dream” to dig out a large area beyond Bayhead Road to create a basin capable of handling ships with up to 9000 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs), needs to become a reality. The current container handling facilities will run out of capacity by 2010. In addition, the eThekwini city council is pushing for 14 break-bulk berths to be relocated so the city can move forward with its Point and Waterfront upgrading plan, which will mean even less berth space. Last year, the port budgeted for 8700 vessel movements but the actual number was 9973. With the port rescinding a decision to convert Salisbury Island into a dedicated container facility, the new project needs to be “fast-tracked”. Salisbury Island will soon lose its identity as a naval yard and become a vehicle import and export terminal. Over the longer term, it will become an “automotive village”, which vehicle manufacturers can use to reduce their overall transport and manufacturing costs from Gauteng through beneficiation and sub-assembly of components at the port. Durban car terminal currently has 6500 parking slots but needs between 12500 and 14000. “The number of vessels calling at the port is increasing all the time and so is the size of the vessels,” Ndlovu said. The extension is considered essential despite the port expanding its handling capacity last year from 1,2m TEUs to 1,9m a year. The port can also move 18 containers an hour from most vessels, up from the previous average of 12. The new container-lifting equipment can push these improvements up to almost 25 containers an hour but limited space to stack, store and move them means the equipment is under-utilised, says Ndlovu. Rajan Chetty, port engineer, says the Bayhead extension will include improved rail and road linkages between the terminal and Gauteng. There will also be space for either an additional car or break-bulk terminal, as well as for longer-term commodities or manufacturing beneficiation facilities. Bayhead Road will be run underground and the existing rail marshalling yards will disappear or be reduced. The new terminals will be equipped with rubber tyre gantries permitting containers to be stacked five or six high, compared with only two at the existing terminal. The Bayhead ship repair facilities will have to move to Richards Bay. Ndlovu says the National Ports Authority and South African Ports Authority are likely to fund most of the development, adding that the Bayhead extension was the most cost-effective way of extending the facilities as it essentially involves flooding existing Transnet land as opposed to reclaiming land.

June 2006
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