The potential for Bellville Container Terminal (Belcon) to enhance throughput capacity at the Port of Cape Town has yet again been moved to the top of the city’s freight agenda as fears mount among industry representatives that unmanageable congestion could reach crisis levels again.
In a column sent to Freight News (*), the customs liaison manager at global freight logistics company Berry & Donaldson, Clifford Evans, makes a strong argument why Belcon could be a “problem solver” for the port.
Although the port managed to claw back cargo processing levels lost earlier this year due to the effect of Covid-19 on personnel and operations, it is by no means out of the woods and secure from another crisis point, Evans argues.
Obvious shortcomings are well documented, he adds – ineffective management, inadequate maintenance of equipment, large vessels calling at the port because of service level issues experienced at ports like Durban, financial constraints, and Transnet’s indifference to Belcon.
The fact of the matter, Evans contends, “is simply that the Port of Cape Town has outgrown itself”.
Alleviation strategies that are currently being considered, such as truck booking and staging as well as reefer-stack capacity expansion, will take too long and cost too much, he adds.
“These are all long-term plans with significant financial implications and none of them addresses the fundamental issue which is, to put it simply, that the port has no space left.
As an inland port solution for congestion, he says Belcon’s 70 000-square-metre facility offers port stack dates, storage, cleaning and light repairs to damaged containers, monitoring of reefer temperatures and pre-trip inspections.
Moreover, its close proximity of 30 kilometres to the port and nearby SA Revenue Service makes it a no-brainer for the port’s persistent cargo issues, often made worse by adverse weather.
“Yet we’ve had it for ten years and it’s just sitting there. Whenever we take it up with Transnet they say it’s not a priority.”
According to Evans maintenance of Belcon and sorting out the rail link into the inland terminal could usher in significant efficiency for the Port of Cape Town, provided that private industry support of the terminal has Transnet’s buy-in.
He claims that infighting at the state-owned freight and rail company, especially between Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) and Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), are responsible for Belcon’s white elephant status.
“We must apply pressure on Transnet to take Belcon seriously as it could be a long-term problem solver for the term. It’s a facility that’s there and is ready to be used. If we don’t do something soon we could again experience the kind of congestion we saw earlier this year at the port.”
* Read Evans’ column “Forever a white elephant or the Port of Cape Town’s saviour?” this coming Monday, 26 October.