Some wise person once said, “One man’s loss is another man’s gain“. While this may be true in many areas and to many parties, it may not be true for South Africa.
Due to the conflict in the Red Sea, there are reportedly more than 100 ships rerouting via the Cape of Good Hope.
However, due to the ongoing issues with berthing delays, blockages, and inefficiencies in the ports of Durban, Cape Town, and Ngqura, South Africa is missing out on potential “gains” from this “loss” of traffic in the Red Sea.
As of 21st Dec 2023, just in terms of container ships, over 14 ships are waiting for a berth at Durban anchorage with the longest waiting for a berth for 27 days !!! and the shortest is already at 8 days.
Marine Traffic maps show a flurry of activity around the Cape of Good Hope with a large number of ships passing. While all of these may not be the rerouted vessels, South Africa is definitely missing out on some of the opportunities that these ships might provide.
Transnet, the custodian of South African ports does not expect vessels to anchor or call at South African ports during the reroute as per a News24 article quoting Transnet Port Terminals spokesperson “The vessels bypassing the Red Sea are on different rotations. As a result, they would not have any cargo destined for South Africa“.
The Transnet Port Authority (TNPA) also has been quoted as saying that no vessels are headed to local ports despite a call for shipping lines to be able to refuel at the Port of Cape Town.
TNPA spokesperson Sphelele Nxele said “The TNPA has not received any abnormal vessel calling at the Port of Cape Town. Vessels calling the port are still the scheduled and planned vessels. TNPA has received requests from one shipping line for port services specifically around bunkering [or refuelling] at anchorage, which the Port of Cape Town currently does not offer.”
While this is the view of the port operator, local industry experts, however, hold the view that although there may not be cargo for South Africa, if the South African ports were up to speed, they could have offered transhipment options for at least some of these ships which are proceeding to the EU ports as there are regular services from SA that connect to EU for both container and break bulk cargoes.
This would save time and potentially costs for ship operators as it would allow them to cut short the long transit they now have to endure around the Cape of Good Hope and maybe back the same way.
Durand Naidoo, CEO of bunkering company Linsen Nambi commented on his LinkedIn that “This could have been a boon for Saldanha Bay and Port Elizabeth but there is no bunker infrastructure in Saldanha Bay and it is imperative that Transnet National Ports Authority lawfully deals with the bunker license fiasco in Algoa Bay by issuing bunker licenses to South African companies which employ South African seafarers and operate South African registered bunker tankers in order to increase GDP and decrease unemployment.
The timing is even more pertinent given that South Africa is falling way behind other emerging market peers.”
The industry recalls very well what happened two years ago when the Suez Canal was blocked and South Africa experienced an influx of large container vessels passing its coast.
The Western Cape government then urged these ships to dock in Cape Town for supplies and refueling. Despite this, South African ports, already strained by equipment failures and bad weather causing congestion, seem not to have learned from this experience. There are renewed concerns about their ability to handle any surge in traffic.