SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s table grape industry, a major source of export earnings in the country, is concerned that the crisis at the ports could cost the business again the next export season.

Equipment breakdowns and delays and Durban and Cape Town port terminals cost SA about R600 million (USD 32.02 million) in export earnings in 2022 and the situation has since deteriorated.

As the harvest season ramps up, exporters continue to face huge backlogs caused by equipment breakdowns and adverse weather conditions, resulting in delays in loading and offloading cargo at the Cape Town and Durban ports managed by Transnet Port Terminals.

In 2022, the South African table grape industry, which had packed over 6 million more cartons year-on-year, shipped 5.2 million cartons fewer to international markets.

According to the report, the delays in the Port of Cape Town attributed to that outcome: “The situation is showing some improvement, although still too slow given the peak shipping weeks that are still ahead.”

Exports to the EU up to week three were down over 3 million cartons year-on-year while the U.K. saw a decrease of 1.3 million cartons.

Recurrent load-shedding

The detrimental effects of the current load-shedding in South Africa extend far beyond power disruptions, denting South Africa’s GDP by an estimated daily range of R204 million to R899 million (USD 13.67 – 60.23 million).

The Reserve Bank outlined its far-reaching consequences, outlining its detrimental effects on mining, transportation, storage, manufacturing, forestry, fisheries, and notably, agriculture, “The strain of stage 4 and higher load-shedding hits hard, especially affecting irrigation and cooling systems.”

Presently oscillating between stage 2 and stage 3, Eskom, reported strides in plant maintenance and network expansion.

However, challenges persist, with the recent approval to reinstate Koeberg unit 1, set to take up to two weeks, followed by maintenance for unit 2.

Plans for the year-end introduction of Kusile units 1 to 5, potentially adding 4,000 MW, offer a glimmer of hope. 

Successful vessel backlog clearance

In another development, positive prospects in the sector prevail as the Cape Town Container Terminal (CTCT) cleared most of its backlog, docking vessels on arrival with only one vessel at anchor as of Tuesday, 28th November 2023.

According to a spokesperson, the port managed to clear the backlog after increasing equipment availability to optimize operations and improve efficiencies.

The terminal is currently operating with 20 rubber-tired gantry cranes (RTG), six of which were recently fitted with new engines and three with generators.

“The availability of RTGs has increased from an average of 15 to 20,” a source at CTCT said. “CTCT is currently completing maintenance repairs on two additional RTGs and has also acquired seven second-hand machines to be delivered in December 2023, which will bring the total number of RTG available to operations to 29.”

According to CTCT, these RTGs are a stopgap while Transnet Port Terminals finalizes the long-term partnership with original equipment manufacturers for all container and multipurpose terminals.

“The contracts are expected to be concluded by December and orders for new RTGs at the CTCT will be placed,” outlined the source.

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