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Transnet gradually bringing ports back online after cyb...

Business Maverick


Transnet gradually bringing ports back online after cyberattack, but exporters’ confidence wanes

Commercial office buildings, including the Transnet SOC Ltd. headquarters office, left, stand on the city skyline at night in the central business district of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday, 8 Aug, 2019. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Gallo Images)

Shipping experts believe the delays caused by the cyberattack may see exporters and importers bypass South African ports in favour of alternatives like Maputo.

Almost a week after a mysterious cyberattack crippled Transnet’s cargo moving technology, leaving dozens of ships stranded at SA’s normally bustling ports and trucks carrying goods bound for lucrative export markets queuing endlessly at the docks, the state-owned logistics firm said on Tuesday it was gradually bringing systems back online.

Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), the state-owned freight company’s division that operates the container terminals, declared force majeure on Monday because of the cyberattack, a move absolving it of any liability for not being able to provide promised services and for losses customers may incur.

In a statement on Tuesday Transnet said the force majeure, meant to run until Friday, was “expected to be lifted soon”, and that while a number of shipping containers were still being loaded manually due to the unavailability of the Navis cargo tracking software and other systems, it had made “significant progress” in restoring the full suite of affected IT applications.

Transnet added it was able to pay wages due on Tuesday despite having placed all non-operations staff on forced leave as it dealt with the data hack, which has also affected its payroll software, employee information files, email and websites. 

The statement, however, was silent on whether the cyberattack was a ransomware incident, or a failure of its own systems, despite growing frustration in the freight and shipping industry about the dearth of transparency about the incident and mounting frustration over the port delays. 

“On a daily basis, about 6,000 containers move in and out of South Africa, of which about 4,200 move out of the Port of Durban. There are a couple of containers moving now, but nowhere near these sort of figures,” said Gavin Kelly, chief executive of the Road Freight Association.

Without the cargo tracking software, operators at the ports cannot tell where containers are and what they are carrying, customs cannot calculate taxes, and some incoming ships are forced to turn back, incurring lost revenue and non-delivery penalties, which they may ultimately pass on to Transnet.

“We’ve had interactions with senior management [at Transnet] and the replies have not been satisfactory. They’ve been very vague. There are only two questions we need answered: when can we move our containers, and exactly what happened?” said Kelly.

In a statement on its website, Danish shipping giant Maersk advised clients that only refrigerated cargo was being accepted for export, while it did “not have clarity yet on when dry cargo acceptance will open up”. Maersk said it did not know when cargo carried by rail would be accepted.

Sellers of perishable goods like fruit, meat and flowers are likely to be hit hardest by the port delays, although manufactured goods such as the components used in cars and industrial products will also suffer.

A global shortage of containers and vessels, which has intensified the need for business to keep a lid on shipping and other supply chain costs, will also tighten the vice on exporters and importers reliant on Trasnet’s port services, which had been plagued by long delays before the cyberattack.

Shipping experts believe the delays caused by the cyberattack may see exporters and importers bypass South African ports in favour of alternatives like Maputo.

“It will take a great deal to recover, not only in terms of repair and replacement, but in terms of investor confidence,” said Dave Watts of the South African Association of Freight Forwarders.

“Importers and exporters are going to struggle to trust us. They’ll start looking at more reliable options, like Mozambique, Dar es Salaam, or Walvis Bay in Namibia. I’ve already seen vessels moving to other ports.”

Between January and May, South Africa recorded R734-billion worth of exports, led by sales of vegetables and fruits and mining minerals, on its way to a record trade surplus and healthier-than-expected tax receipts, boosting economic growth and taking enough pressure off the Treasury for it to reinstate relief for the unemployed and businesses hit by the recent unrest. DM/BM


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All Comments 3

  • The co-incidence of the insurrection followed by a cyber attack is possibly too big to ignore. Who would have the capabilities of organizing and co ordinating these events? The colour red and a square springs to mind….in my opinion. Payback for cancelling the nuclear agreement signed under Zuma? The chance to get your hands on the world’s biggest supply of platinum? The opportunity to turn one of the biggest continents into a socialist one to be plundered by its masters? Who would want to destabilize Africa’s largest coherent economy? Call me a paranoid conspiracy theorist maybe….but, in my opinion it’s worth asking the questions!

  • As reported “. . . whether the cyberattack was a ransomware incident, or a failure of its own systems . . .” either cause implies the other; yet miraculously, they managed to pay wages!

    While the deafening silence implies – ‘andazi, yayingendim, bendingekho apho’ or ‘I don’t know, it wasn’t me, I wasn’t there’ – the lies and obfuscation that will follow will never result in anyone being held to account; nor will the cANCer responsible for such malaise be eradicated.

    And when the aftermath of this cyberattack is added to that of the failed insurrection of a few weeks ago, SA will be left with a * of monumental proportions to deal with.

    And don’t rule out the possibility of the involvement and machinations of the very same dark forces behind ZUMA having played a part in this as well.

    It has the same fingerprints on it, that are to be found on the failed insurrection; as something that was started, the consequences of which, may not have been fully understood, and which will have dire consequences for SA and her people for many years to come 😥

  • In 1998 Transnet was warned about the “chaotic’ condition and gross inefficiency of its ports in a document entitled “Moving South Africa” prepared at the instigation of the then Minister of Transport, Mac Maharaj. Transnet’s response , was rather than to addressing the problems bit by bit in a methodical fashion, but to plan a “pie in the sky” new dugout port at the old airfield site in Durban. This multi-billion Rand project has apparently since then been discredited and abandoned. T he position with the port of Durban remains, as the third most inefficient major port in the world, according to recent media reports..

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