Durban’s container dominance challenged

2012-12-10 00:00

THE South Coast will not be losing Durban’s container business to Richards Bay, but that city is not taking defeat lying down and has asked for the matter to be debated “in the political arena”.

“Durban port has always, and will continue to be, the preferred location for a container terminal, given its export and import demand on the Johannesburg-to-Durban route,” said Sudesh Maharaj, programme director of Transnet’s Richards Bay port expansion projects.

Speaking on a visit to Richards Bay last week, Maharaj said the port’s multi-purpose terminal could already handle containers, and there was no need for a dedicated container terminal.

In November last year, the City of uMhlathuze appointed McIntosh Xaba and Associates (Pty) Ltd to compile the case for a container terminal in Richards Bay.

The deputy municipal manager: city development, Lindani Khoza, said the study was ongoing, but he hoped to see it completed soon.

The study would be taken to the Public Enterprise Department as the municipality and council wanted to take the issue up at political level.

“While Transnet has made its decision, we are asking that the issue is taken into the political arena for debate,” said Khoza.

Richards Bay leaders have noted residents’ opposition to an expanded port in Durban, where Transnet is set on building a new multi-billion-rand facility at the old international airport site in the south of the city.

Richards Bay business and political leaders believe the city does not pose the same problems of space availability and congestion that mark the Durban facility’s expansion.

uMhlathuze mayor Elphas Mbatha said the benefits of a container terminal at Richards Bay include shorter road distances to Gauteng, a good railway network to transport products, and plenty of space at the harbour.

Richards Bay currently handles dry bulk exports and moves in excess of 85 million tons of raw material — including about 65 million tons of coal through the Richards Bay Coal Terminal.

Maharaj said Richards Bay was the premier bulk port; “that’s how we see its role — exporting raw material such as coal and minerals, in bulk.”

“We have discussed this many times with the same stakeholders.

‘We request the market to bring us a 100 000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) throughput in the new handling facility, then maybe it (a container terminal) could be investigated, if future viability seems more likely than at present,” said Maharaj.

The best recorded yearly throughput in recent years was 22 000 TEUs. Monthly throughput in recent months has not reached 15 000 TEUs, said Maharaj.

While the Richards Bay’s container terminal hopes have been dashed, Maharaj said Transnet was investigating the feasibility of a new multi-billion-rand coal terminal in the town.

If the project got the go-ahead, the plan is to have the terminal built by 2019/20. It could cost R10-12 billion.

It would be smaller than the current coal terminal and would be built to handle about 14 million tons per year during the first phase, serving especially emerging and small miners.

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