South African ports were under pressure long before the outbreak of Covid-19 – and the impact of the pandemic has served to exacerbate the country’s already choked-up supply chain.
Every terminal had been affected, but Cape Town Container Terminal had been the worst hit, said Velile Dube, Transnet Port Terminals chief executive.
“We dropped from seven gangs to two, while vessel waiting times surged,” he said during an interview with Freight News.
Employees were forced to stay home either because they had been infected or due to high risk of infection. Complaints increased as the system came to a near standstill.
An estimated vessel berthing time of 312 hours saw shipping lines opting to bypass Cape Town, leaving cargo high and dry. But this only increased the pressure on Durban, already plagued by lack of capacity, equipment and high levels of congestion. With the bulk of the country’s citrus exports moving through this port during the autumn and winter months, the situation was dire.
According to Dube, the situation called for a lot of adjustment which has also introduced a new culture in TPT. “We work for our customers and our people. The spirit that we have seen during these past few months has been unprecedented. We really do need to harness it going forward.”
During the heart of the Cape Town crisis Dube called for volunteers from the Durban port to step in and assist. “We had 20 people who came to Cape Town at a time when it was the epicentre of the virus. What they did, in my eyes, was quite heroic.”
There has been a steady improvement in performance in Cape Town, he said. They were back to six gangs, and in early July waiting time for vessels had been significantly reduced.
He admitted it took TPT a long time to really understand and come to grips with the dynamics of the infection. “It is important, however, that we do not lose the lessons learnt here and that we transfer what we know to the other regions to ensure we don’t have the same situation arise.”