Shipping company loses claim against Transnet for grapes damaged in dockyard

2014-02-11 00:00

THE Durban high court yesterday dismissed with costs a claim by a global shipping company to force Transnet to bear the cost of grapes damaged in its Cape Town dockyard.

The claim by Mediterranean Shipping Company SA was dismissed by the court, largely on technical grounds and not on the merits of the case. However, it revealed that the South African perishable export industry walks a tight rope if the sector is not properly managed.

The claim by MSC, worth several hundred thousand rands, is one of three being brought by the shipping giant against Transnet for damaged produce.

But the court found the claim was made outside of a prescribed period of 420 days. The claim dates back to April 2009, when a consignment of 18 containers carrying grapes destined for Antwerp were rejected after being damaged by temperature fluctuations.

Mitchell Brooke, head of logistics at the Hillcrest-based Citrus Growing Association of South Africa, said shipping companies have software to manage the temperatures in refrigerated containers, but malfunctions are not uncommon.

“Depending on the perishable and where it is being exported to, temperature fluctuation is very important to the industry. Grapes need to be kept at -0,5 Celsius. If this changes and is not rectified over a matter of hours, it can damage the grapes and they will be rejected by the intended host country.

“Citrus is more versatile and is able to withstand temperature changes. However, when it comes to sensitive markets, changes in the temperature can cost a lot of money. The exporter has to find another market and sell the product at a cheaper price, or be forced to dump the produce.

“Our association has in the past addressed Transnet on sensitive markets and the importance of monitoring temperature fluctuations,” he said.

South Africa exported more than 249 million tons of perishable products by sea in 2013.

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