Business Maverick

Transnet ports division declares force majeure on container terminals after cyber attack

A crane operator unloads shipping containers from freight wagons at the Port of Durban, operated by Transnet SOC Holdings Ltd's Ports Authority, in Durban, South Africa, on 28 October 2015. (Photo: Kevin Sutherland / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), the state-owned freight company’s division that operates the   container terminals at the country’s biggest ports including Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Ngqura and Durban, declared force majeure late on Monday after its IT systems suffered a massive cyber attack last week that crippled its operations. 

Two separate people, who asked not to be named, confirmed to Business Maverick that the port division had declared force majeure across all its container terminals. 

The contractual clause means Transnet absolves itself of any liability for not being able to provide promised services to its clients due to an “act of God”. The clause is normally invoked for catastrophic events, such as natural disasters, warfare, or in this case a cyber attack.

Trasnet said it was still working on a statement when contacted for comment. 

The state firm has yet to name the source of the cyber attack, whether any ransom has been demanded, or how deep the infiltration of sensitive information goes, but the result has been that its port divisions cannot digitally track and account for the thousands of goods containers that enter and leave the country’s ports on a daily basis. 

Performing this operation manually has resulted in long delays.        

TPT’s operations include handling imports and export of cars, goods containers, bulk and break bulk such as ​​manufacturing and construction equipment, as well as fresh produce and and mining minerals like platinum, gold, and manganese that have driven South Africa’s record commodity exports this year. 

Two weeks ago, at the height of the unrest and looting that hit KWaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, Transnet declared force majeure on its critical Natcor rail line that connects Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. It was able to resume operations on the line a few days later. BM/DM

 

    

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  • It is offensive to say that this is an act of God. It’s clearly incapable and negligent management and it’s high time that directors and senior management were charge with dereliction of duty. The impact of this is worse than the impact of the recent riots without the physical destruction.

  • I strongly suspect the same instigators of the recent unrest behind this. First attempt to trigger a coup by looting the shops failed, this is the second attempt to de-stabilize the country, probably with much worse consequences than the first attempt. Many more empty shelves for much longer, large scale job losses, disinvestment, it will cripple the economy much more than the recent looting spree! This is an attempt to make this country ungovernable.

  • Dear Mfuneko,

    There might be another bigger story here. Question I ask is why was there no backup system and who secured the contract(s) for Transnet IT system / software and at what cost in the first place? In addition, who is responsible for ongoing support and at what cost, seeming without backups?

    • I strongly suspect ransomware. (All files are encrypted.) A hack requires no more than a careless employee opening a foreign attachment. There may be sneaky ways of infecting backups too, when loaded. Imagine what the ransom demand may be.