South Africa’s maritime ports, known to be highly inefficient, need to be repurposed and redesignated to increase their efficient use, says law firm Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa chairperson Andrew Robinson.
Speaking during an Infrastructure Africa panel discussion on transformation in the transport sector, on June 23, he reiterated that the World Bank recently ranked the Port of Durban among the bottom three of 351 global ports for its container handling competency.
Robinson noted that port inefficiency results from many factors, contrary to many individuals’ opinion that inefficiency solely results from factors such as a port’s ability to berth ships, load them timeously and otherwise move cargo of all shapes and forms in and out of it.
“It is all of these things,” he said, adding that many of South Africa’s ports are old-structured general-purpose types of harbours, which is the biggest challenge.
Although Robinson noted Transnet’s plans to designate some ports as being cargo- or vessel-specific, he alluded that these plans needed to be expedited and it may also require a further shift.
“Instead of having very general mixed ports, rather have ports that are focussed and can deal with, for example, container traffic,” said Robinson.
Important factors in this regard include ensuring the right size ships can access certain ports, pointing to Durban as being a case in point for not being able to berth large container vessels, and thus hindering South Africa’s import/export potential.
Also, besides being deep enough to accommodate deep-draft vessels, he noted that designated ports need to have the appropriate materials-handling equipment and related infrastructure, as well as rail access to ensure cargo can be efficiently handled and moved to major cities, such as Johannesburg.
Durban, for example, was an obvious container port because of its close proximity to Johannesburg, said Robinson, who also suggested that the Port of Ngqura in the Eastern Cape could also efficiently handle containers with the addition of main-line rail access to join up to Johannesburg.
Repurposing the Ngqura port to focus on container handling would free up the Port of Durban to instead undertake other activities like transshipment work or bulk cold storage, he said.
“It is all about the integration of logistics, but using infrastructure properly, so that it can be more efficient,” noted Robinson.