SOUTH AFRICA – The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), largest global line by capacity, has unveiled plans for an additional direct cargo service from the Port of Ngqura, to Northern Europe, in a move to fortify South Africa’s citrus export capabilities.

The announcement, made on February 5, 2024, holds immense promise for citrus exporters from Sunday’s River Valley, given Port Ngqura’s strategic position near Gqberha (Port Elizabeth), providing enhanced cold-chain value during the high season.

The new service, operating every Tuesday from week 22 to week 36, aligns with the European, Mediterranean, and Canadian cargo demand.

MSC aims to augment its existing network, emphasizing a comprehensive and reliable shipping experience for exporters.

The timing of this announcement, just ahead of the ongoing Fruit Logistica fresh-produce convention in Berlin from February 7-9, adds significance to MSC’s endeavor.

According to MSC, the introduction of this direct service, free of transshipment, is a strategic response to the challenges faced by fruit shippers in ensuring timely transportation from South Africa to Europe.

With mounting logistical hurdles, this additional service is poised to garner enthusiastic support, potentially securing South Africa’s position as the world’s second-largest citrus exporter.

Upon further clarification by MSC, the newly announced “additional direct service” from the Port of Ngqura is deemed a “shipping platform” tailored to meet trader requirements.

This distinction underscores the company’s commitment to addressing specific needs within the citrus export supply chain.

Citrus industry vigilant as Port challenges emerge

As the South African citrus export season approaches, concerns loom over the logistical challenges faced by the industry.

Recent data by the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) reveals a 14% decline in citrus fruit export volume from the Cape Town port’s container terminal, with a 17% reduction in table grape exports compared to the previous season.

Paul Hardman, the industry affairs manager of the CGA, expressed worry about potential complications in transporting citrus fruits to export markets.

With the peak citrus export season set to commence in April, the industry hopes that port congestion issues will be resolved promptly.

Hardman acknowledged positive developments, citing the appointment of International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI) to enhance Durban port’s dock number 2.

“We have already started discussions with ICTSI about the project. We hope the favorable effects of the public-private partnership will be felt in the upcoming season,” he stated.

While Maputo port presents an alternative for citrus exports, Hardman highlighted the complexities of crossing the Mozambique border. The CGA is actively working to make Maputo a more viable option, particularly for producers in the northern regions. However, the preference is for stakeholders to collaboratively address the crisis at South Africa’s ports.

Hardman emphasized the pivotal role of Transnet, the backbone of the export economy, urging government intervention to support Transnet’s restructuring plan.

The CGA advocates for National Treasury involvement, with conditions ensuring the expansion of public and private partnerships in the railway network and ports.

As the citrus industry navigates these challenges, the announcement of MSC’s new service provides a glimmer of hope, presenting a strategic solution to enhance South Africa’s citrus export capabilities during a critical juncture.

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