Transnet declares force majeure as Richards Bay fire shuts down terminal operations

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Photo: Getty Images
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  • The fire, which broke out on Wednesday evening at Richards Bay Dry Bulk Terminal, is being investigated.
  • The force majeure will trigger a total shutdown of all conveyor routes until further notice
  • Transnet Port Terminals Richards Bay acting chief executive Jabu Mdaki said the ability to import and export cargo had been affected.

State-owned logistics company Transnet was forced to declare a force majeure at its Port Terminals division, following an enormous fire at its Richards Bay Dry Bulk Terminal which started on Wednesday evening. 

According to a statement from Transnet on Friday, the force majeure was declared in terms of Transnet Port Terminals' (TPT) standard trading terms and conditions and would trigger a total shutdown of all conveyor routes until further notice.

Transnet has had more than its fair share of damage to infrastructure and operation stoppages in the past year, with IT infrastructure attacks and other snags that have halted or slowed down operations at ports and on rail. A cyberattack in July also prompted it to declare a force majeure.

The force majeure mechanism exists to protect both the entity and its clients in circumstances that prevent it from honouring its contractual obligations.

Transnet Port Terminals Richards Bay acting chief executive Jabu Mdaki said a preliminary investigation was underway to establish the extent of the damage.

"While the fire was contained by approximately 01:30 am on 13 October, severe damage had been caused, which was unavoidable given the enormity of the blaze. The terminal has isolated various areas of operations from an electrical power standpoint as a mitigation to contain all further fires," said Mdaki.

Mdaki said because of the fire, the Foskor Sulphur import route was so damaged that it could not import commodities. He said the Richards Bay Terminal Grindrod coal route was also damaged and could not export cargo.

"Woodchips Silvercel belt has been damaged; however, this route can still operate accordingly. The Terminal has activated a daily command centre to monitor the situation and assess the direct and indirect impact to both TPT and customers," Mdaki said.

He said the time it would take to repair the facilities would depend on the scope of work that Transnet's team put together once they had been granted route access by the fire forensic and structural engineering teams.

"This declaration will stay effective until further notice but will at all times be dealt with in accordance with the standard conditions of trade. Kindly be assured that TPT is working hard to mitigate and minimise any negative impact that this force majeure event might have within the Richard's Bay operational space," said Mdaki.

Mdaki said Transnet Port Terminals could not provide an exact date for when the facilities would return to operation, but that TPT would update customers affected and putting in place contingencies to address the impact of the fire on cargo handling operations.

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