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Cape Town port performance under scrutiny
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Cape Town port performance under scrutiny

Western Cape Government adopts critical report

SOUTH AFRICA:  Despite the efforts of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance, Economic Opportunities and Tourism which adopted a report detailing operational inefficiencies at the Port of Cape Town, as well as comprehensive recommendations to address these issues, any real changes in port performance will require a focused and sustained approach from Transnet National Ports Authority.

The report, which was revealed to the media on Monday, has also been sent to President Ramaphosa, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, and the CEO of Transnet with the request for an official response within the next two weeks.

The compilation of the document follows a public engagement with key stakeholders in the maritime and logistics sectors last month; and includes input from the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) the Western Cape Government, Exporters Western Cape as well as the South African Association of Ship Operators and Agents.

While the report itself serves as a useful collation of the challenges and issues facing the Port of Cape Town, there is nothing substantially new that has not already been discussed within port user forums over the last few years.

It is, however, a welcomed development to see the Western Cape Government intervening in a strategic manner to improve efficiencies within the port. The South African port system as a whole has come under increased national government scrutiny with the establishment of a National Logistics Crisis Committee as well as the Freight Logistics Roadmap.

These have yielded some gains, but the country is still experiencing port congestion issues that result in surcharges as well as ships bypassing some of the major commercial ports.

Port of Cape Town performance

According to the report, the recorded average waiting time for berths in February this year was 144 hours which is seen as an improvement on the 215 hours recorded in January. This waiting time is impacted by the demand for container services versus the capacity of the terminal as well as delays caused by weather.

While the truck turnaround time has also seen some improvement and the throughput in the port has increased, the average vessel turnaround time, which has been reduced from 82 hours to 57 hours, is still not considered ideal.

The report highlights the state of gantries and cranes working within the container terminal as well as the need to invest in equipment that can operate in the high windspeeds experienced in the port. As a major port user, MSC made recommendations within the report to procure rubber-tyred gantries that align with the ship-to-shore gantry cut-off speed of 85 – 90 km/hour.

The shipping line also recommended the introduction of additional equipment and shore gangs to provide uninterrupted operations. “It is essential to have at least three complete gangs available at all times to handle the workload efficiency,” they suggested.  

The crane moves per hour fell to an average of only 10,28 between December last year and February this year. Considering that global averages are in the region of 23 moves an hour, this highlights the state of inefficiencies within the Port of Cape Town.

Currently pilot transfers are also impacted by weather conditions and a helicopter is only expected to be delivered to the port for this purpose during 2025.

The importance of the port to the province

The Department believes that improving the performance of the Cape Town Container Terminal represents a key opportunity to generate new jobs and economic activity within the province. With 55% of South Africa’s primary exports currently being exported through the Port of Cape Town, it remains a critical asset for not only Western Cape but also for the entire country.

It is estimated that the container logistics sector using the Port of Cape Town represents an approximately R75 billion industry that, with the appropriate intervention could generate 20,000 new jobs by 2026 through cargo growth.

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