In the recent past, the Port of Durban has been hit with significant congestion on both waterside with vessels waiting for an average of approximately 5 days prior berthing and on the landside with trucks queueing for kilometers with turnaround times at unsustainable levels. Durban is a major hub, primarily to the gateway cargo that drives the economy of South Africa and other SADC nations.
Given the volumes handled, here’s an analysis of the required levels of performances as against the actual capacity, specifically at DCT for the purpose of this evaluation.
In 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19, DCT moved1 294 949 units, 1 304 891 units, 1 286 491 units respectively; an average of approximately 1.3 Million units per annum.
The number of working days at DCT are 360, considering terminal closure on New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and Labor Day.
On the waterside, making a hypothetical allowance for stoppages in cargo operations due to adverse weather conditions at an extreme rate of five (5) days per month, sixty (60) days per year, the number of actual working days can be deduced to 300 annually. The reason for this downtime is the Ship to Shore (STS) gantries cut off at wind speeds exceeding 70 kms/hour.
However, the annual working days for land-side operations may be anticipated to be 360 days, reason being, land-side at DCT endures to remain operational, as the straddles are not impacted by adverse weather, hence continue to off-load and load the trucks, regardless.
An exercise to illustrate the performance required to move 1.3 Million units in the available 300 days of waterside operations annually, dictates an average move count of approximately 4300 units per day.
On the water-side, with a modest deployment of 12 gantries (as has been the case in the recent past), each gantry would hence be required to perform 360 moves in 24 hours at the rate of 15 moves per hour.
In a nutshell, as is clear from the above deductions, despite allowing for a complete downtime at the rate of five (5) days per month, i.e. 60 days annually, deploying only twelve (12) gantries, the performance requirement per gantry per hour is a meagre 15 moves on the water-side operations, clearly indicating a spare capacity of at least 25%, notwithstanding the fact that only 300 working days have been considered for the purpose of this evaluation.
In order to service the truck/trailers that carry the import and export containers, DCT is equipped with three (3) towers, each serving the North Quay, East Quay and the South Quay. Each of these towers is provided with approximately 25 bays. Ideally, in order to facilitate a smooth turnaround of trucks, nine (9) straddles are required to be deployed per tower, twenty-seven straddles across all the towers. Each straddle is expected to perform nine moves per hour, implying a capacity of 5800 units that can be handled per day (24 hours) under most ideal conditions.
As alluded, the volumes handled at DCT annually are 1.3M over 360 working days; this infers a demand for approximately 3600 units to be handled per day (24 hours).
Equating the capacity with demand, there is a spare capacity of 38%, provided of course the essential equipment are made available.
In conclusion, it can be clearly construed, just by a mere deployment of nine (9) straddles per tower, twenty-seven (27) in total, there should never be any form of congestion on the road.
Indeed, a pity that the situation hasn’t received the attention due in the past and left to deteriorate to such an appalling extent for lack of these critical equipment; it’s beyond one’s apprehension the industry has been held to ransom although the necessity for such had been recognized years ago.
Transnet’s Standard Operating Procedures makes mention of turnaround time for trucks being ninety (90) minutes. Basis these assertions the size of the fleet is adjusted, and the costs manifested. Of course, in the recent past, this hasn’t quite been the case causing unrest among the trucking fraternity.
In order to rectify the situation, the following propositions may be of value to be duly considered.
- Immediate procurement of equipment, specifically the straddles, in order to add to the existing fleet and replace the ageing fleet that is nearing the end of its working lifespan. The industry has however, been given to understand that this process is being expedited with delivery dates mid next year. Ideally the total number of straddles that are required to be in operation on a continuoal basis are eighty- four (84), four (4) straddles behind each gantry x 12, amounting to forty-eight (48), twenty seven (27) for the three (3) towers and another nine (9) for housekeeping.
- It is extremely vital that a round the clock facility for Repair, Service and Maintenance be established, with resources in terms of personnel, required expertise as well as sufficient inventory of spares and consumables to facilitate the upkeep of the continuously failing equipment. Presently, the terminal works only day shift with a full compliment of staff and further until 22h00 with a skeletal staff. Of course, a roving team is available for breakdown maintenance round the clock. By simply resourcing the workshop to work 24/7 with full complement of staff, the terminal would be in a much better position, to dispatch / turnaround the equipment requiring attendance swiftly, the lack of which is the main crux of the problem and root cause of the congestion on both landside and waterside. The revamping of the technical support into a 24-hour workshop is very crucial in ensuring the equipment crucial to operations undergo the routine planned maintenance and service regimes; the postponement thereof further risks the condition and working lifespan of these expensive equipment, that need to be overhauled / serviced in conjunction with the running hours.
- Last but not least, Container Terminals need to be driven by incentive schemes to induce productivity as is done in the major ports around the globe. As much as the various heads at the helm of affairs at Transnet have a significant role, the conn lies with the workforce on the ground who have in the past, displayed tremendous potential, albeit the business warrants the proviso to adopt an incentive scheme linked to productivity, preferably on a sliding scale. Container business is quite peculiar, wherein performances can be easily jeopardized under the guise of numerous factors, hence the need for some impetus to perform beyond norms.
The shipping lines pay an additional premium of 10% on the Terminal Handling Charge if the contracted (CTOC) rate of productivity is achieved. In the past, this additional revenue if earned, by means of achieving the stipulated performance, was shared with the entire supply chain in Operations, hence keeping them motivated to strive achieve better efficacies. At some stage, it was decided by Management at Transnet to transfer the additional revenue earned from the productivity portion linked to CTOC, to Transnet Group. Consequently, Transnet lost on all counts, as the performance took a knock down and the income linked to productivity wasn’t earned anymore. In essence, the terminal workers as well as the management relinquished on the potential additional revenue as the performance levels across South African Ports deteriorated, subsequently massive losses were registered in the various industrial and farming sectors, besides, the country lost its credibility in terms of driving the economy forward.
The irony is that Transnet is the simplest parastatal to deal, whereby the fixes are straightforward with guaranteed results; it’s the procrastination that is overwhelming.
The dynamics of losses incurred, the influence on the South African economy, the impact on the potential jobs that could have been created, is a topic of discussion on its own.
In a country gifted with an ideal location and coastline extending to nearly 3000 kilometers, it is incumbent on the authorities in decision making positions to envisage the huge potential South Africa possesses and explore the existing opportunities in the various fields of the maritime sector so as to extend the prospects into a job creation mechanism.
Linked to the topic in discussion, the South African ports can be transformed into a major trans-shipment hub for container traffic, given its location in the global arena and the fact that ships have to call South African ports anyway, owing to the existence of huge volumes of gateway cargo, meaning, additional deployment of ships to cater to trans-shipment volumes is not warranted.
In order to achieve the above, it is essential that the existent capacity is clearly demonstrated to imbibe confidence and encourage the shipping lines to explore the options that are made available. The terminal work force needs to be cognizant of their responsibilities in executing the assigned tasks with sheer dedication and utter sincerity, consequently pave the platform to fellow citizens having due regards to unemployment rate hovering around 30%.