Port delays taking toll on truck firms
DELAYS at the Durban and Richards Bay ports are costing local freight companies millions of rand in losses.
By Tuesday, more than 50 cargo carriers were waiting to enter the port of Durban.
Earlier this week, Transnet said it would fast-track operations to clear the ongoing backlog and reduce delays, which could take over two months.
At the Richards Bay Port, Transnet has stopped all truck cargo from entering the staging area in a bid to prevent further traffic congestion.
Freight companies told POST this week that the berthing period had increased from three days to over a week per vessel.
Avikash Kissoonlall, general manager of SK Trucking in Inanda Road, said they had lost millions in revenue and the figure was climbing daily.
“We usually handle around 1 000 containers a month. However, due to the inefficiency of the port operations, we’ve had to shut down our customer operations facility, as a cost saving measure. While our trucks wait to be loaded and dispatched, we still have to pay drivers and for the maintenance of the trucks.”
Kissoonlall said their fleet included 31 long-distance vehicles and 30 local vehicles.
“We have paid almost R800 000 to Transnet in a desperate attempt to get them to berth one of our vessels early. To date nothing has happened. It’s money down the drain for us …”
Gantrans, a trucking and logistics firm founded in 1963 by Ganes Pillay and operating a fleet of over 180 trucks, is facing a similar predicament.
Speaking anonymously, one of the truck drivers said waiting at the port was challenging.
“We wait for hours and hours to move freight and there aren’t even toilet facilities for us to use.”
NM Freight’s Thiroshan Moodley said every day that went by without cargo being moved, increased costs and penalties.
Moodley said they were a key stakeholder in the handling of freight once a ship had berthed.
“These added costs finally get passed on to the consumer,” he said.
The world’s largest container line, MSC, is levying a surcharge of nearly R4 000 per container for dry cargo, which began on Sunday.
“Various administrative and technical oversights and inefficiencies have started to snowball into bigger problems. This impacts the entire process, leading to further congestion,” said Moodley.
“For example, the straddlers that load and stack the containers onto each allocated truck are inconsiderate when operating machinery. This leads to improper loading and trucks being damaged, resulting in further delays on the roads when trucks have to stop for repairs and breakdowns.”
Moodley recalled an incident when a shipment of Heineken beer was allegedly stolen after a non-nominated trucking company managed to side-step the security procedures. The truck managed to leave the port with the shipment unaccounted for, he claimed.
“If you have a look at the port logistics infrastructure, it’s effectively a graveyard of unused or broken equipment, damaged locomotives, under-utilised or unusable repair parts. It’s a hopeless mess,” said Moodley.
“In addition, the software and administration handling service that Transnet has boasted about to improve operational efficiency is riddled with faults. It has not been tailored to work with aged and damaged equipment, mismanagement and lack of accountability that the Durban Port is notorious for.”
Palesa Phili, CEO of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there are easier ways to address the problem by using existing networks.
“Shipping lines utilising the Durban Port have made offers to the government to bring the necessary repairs and equipment to fruition, and have proposed that relaxed trade tariffs will assist them in recouping the costs thereof,” said Phili.
Transnet’s chairperson, Andile Sangqu, has cautioned that while equipment will be repaired and upgraded with the capital injection from the Treasury, the lead time for repairs could still take up to two years.
The economic toll of the seemingly never-ending delays in and out of the Durban Container Terminals 1 and 2 are grave, with the congestion costing Transnet over R150 million in losses thus far, and the South African economy over R120m a day.
The independent Gain Group has indicated that the port and logistics problems have cost the South African gross domestic product the equivalent of 5% each year, and was continuing to grow. This has left many businesses in dire straits as the Christmas period officially began, and some retailers are finding it difficult to stock shelves without their imported goods.
However, officials and shipping merchants are still holding thumbs that Transnet’s promises can deliver ahead of schedule to keep the outstanding imports afloat and the container terminal from derailing entirely.
African News Agency