Ship ahoy: Durban harbour berths its biggest container vessel

2012-07-04 00:00

DURBAN harbour will receive one of the largest container ships ever to berth in South Africa. And the 363,5 metre-long MSC Sola has the deft hands of five women steering it into port.

Before the harbour entrance was widened and deepened in recent years, the 45,6 metre-wide ship would have bypassed Durban. But with its new dimensions, Transnet National Ports Authority says it has grand ambitions for Africa’s busiest port.

“To ensure the country remains competitive and well ahead of demand, we need to increase the port handling facility by more than 50% in the next seven years,” chief executive Tau

Morwe said in a statement.

“By doing so, container capacity will increase from approximately 2,7 million [20-foot standard containers] to more than five million.”

Today’s big arrival means another first for the local maritime industry as four tugs — all with women at the helm — will be used to escort the Sola.

Transnet states that the MSC Sola can carry 11 660 containers, with connections for 960 refrigerated containers. This time the vessel, which has come from the Far East, will be carrying only half its capacity.

Transnet says it plans to deepen three berths to allow ships of the Sola’s size to come in fully laden.

Entrusted with the job of guiding the Sola into port is Bongiwe Mbambo, one of three women who last year became Africa’s first black women marine pilots to get their prestigious “open licences”. With these licences they can navigate ships of any size and type into port.

“We have made great strides towards gender and racial equality and transformation in the maritime environment, as we see more black women playing such crucial roles in this industry,” said Morwe.

The vessel sets sail in the next week for Coega outside Port Elizabeth.

The biggest container ships on the waters today belong to Maersk, and can carry more than 15 000 20-foot containers on their 400 metre-long decks.

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