No record of rotting fruit at Cape Town port – but the WCape still wants it privatised

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The challenges of the port are complex, but in partnership with the private sector, these can be overcome, according to Alderman James Vos.
The challenges of the port are complex, but in partnership with the private sector, these can be overcome, according to Alderman James Vos.
Peter Titmuss/Education Images/Universal Images Gr
  • The Cape Town port authorities and deciduous fruit body Hortgro say they have no record of export fruit rotting at the port due to handling delays.
  • A newspaper claimed that tons of the country’s best quality export fruit are rotting in harbours, because the ports have "lost the ability" to load the ships.
  • The Western Cape government believes the port should be privatise soon to address problems.

Neither the Cape Town port authorities, nor the deciduous fruit body Hortgro, are aware of any export fresh produce rotting at the port due to handling delays.

This after Rapport newspaper at the weekend reported that tons of the country’s best quality export fruit are rotting in harbours, because the ports have "lost the ability" to load the ships.

"Currently, there is no congestion at the Cape terminals. The terminals are fluid with no truck queues inside and outside," said Sne Makhanya, senior manager of corporate affairs at Transnet Port Terminals told Fin24 on Tuesday.

There is currently no record of export fruit that have rotted at any of the Cape Town port terminals, Makhanya added.

During the period 1 November 2021 to 28 March 2022, the terminals handled 38 700 refrigerated containers, higher than the 38 197 refrigerated containers handled in the same period last year. This was despite inclement weather, shipping backlogs and a slow uptake of a new truck booking system.

Additional equipment has been delivered to help handling at the port, and engineering expertise from other Transnet operating divisions has been deployed to prioritise equipment performance.

The first set of shore tensioners (mooring systems) to help reduce weather delays caused by the underwater currents have also been installed.

"In the past year, out of a total of 1 970 hours attributed to bad weather and delays experienced, delays due to underwater currents amounted to 699 hours. The underwater current peak coincides with the citrus season," explained Makhanya. 

"These and other initiatives have resulted in a significant reduction in high equipment breakdown that was experienced at the beginning of the year and a marked improvement in ship working hours (SHW)," said Makhanya. 

But according to David Maynier, Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, the port is still taking strain. For example, the port is currently running on two berths but should operate at least three births, primarily due to a shortage of functional equipment. 

In the week to 20 March 2022, the average waiting time at anchor is 7.6 days (the target goal is one day). The average turnaround time is 15 days, while the goal is four days and containers moved were 15 009 compared to the goal of 18 000.

Maynier said the port is hurt by a massive capital under expenditure - which means there’s a shortage of equipment, and poor maintenance of equipment.

"As per Transnet Port Terminal’s annual reports, over the last three years capital under expenditure amounted to R2.3 billion or almost 30% of Transnet Port Terminal’s capital budget."

"It is now time to look at privatising the port of Cape Town. Privatising the port of Cape Town would mean that the revenue raised by the port, would be reinvested in the port and critical infrastructure would be maintained for optimal performance," says Maynier.

This is echoed by James Vos, Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Growth at the City of Cape Town, who – in a letter to national government about the challenges faced by the port authorities in Cape Town – also called for "more movement" towards privatising the port.

"The need to privatise is clear, the inefficiencies restrain the Cape Town metro and province’s economic and employment growth, and comes at a time when we desperately need to be bolstering both," writes Vos in a letter seen by Fin24.

Export expectation

While Rapport reported that R1 billion in export fruit won't reach markets in the northern hemisphere due to problems at the ports, Anton Rabe, executive director of the deciduous fruit body Hortgro, said the number may be based on a misunderstanding of an estimate done by Hortgro earlier this year. 

"We estimated that, should various problems - like delays due to weather, quality, lower prices and extra costs - be taken into consideration, the potential loss in exported deciduous fruit could be at least 10% of the usual R10 billion in export value," says Rabe, who is is not aware of any fresh produce rotting at the port or having had to be discarded.  

According to the latest Hortgro estimates South African pear exports in 2022 will be 12% higher than in 2021, while apple exports will be 6% more.

Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association (CGA), is concerned about ongoing challenges at the country's ports and is monitoring the situation closely ahead of the 2022 citrus season kicking off next month.

Chadwick refers to recent announcements by government that are aimed at improving port performance over the longer term are welcome - including a R100 billion infrastructure development project at Durban port and the Transnet National Ports Authority potentially being turned into an independent subsidiary over the next few years.

"However, immediate action is desperately required at the Durban and Cape Town ports to ensure citrus reaches key markets on time in 2022. The CGA, therefore, welcomes President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement in his SONA in February that Transnet is focused on improving efficiencies at the ports through procuring additional equipment and implementing new systems to reduce current congestion," said Chadwick.

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