Richards Bay port grinds to halt over ‘environmental management issues’, coal exports unaffected
State-run logistics operator Transnet has urged operators to halt the dispatch of trucks to the Port of Richards Bay after one of the terminal operators was issued a Non-Compliance Stop Work Certificate for unspecified ‘environmental management issues’. This has brought the dry-bulk and multipurposes terminals to a halt, according to an internal document obtained by Daily Maverick.
It’s been a bad week for the South African trucking industry.
First there was a spate of arson attacks on trucks that began Sunday night on the N3 in KwaZulu-Natal and spread like wildfire to Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
News has now emerged that Transnet has asked that no trucks be sent to the Port of Richards Bay while unspecified “environmental management issues” are sorted out. Daily Maverick understands that coal moved by rail to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal is unaffected.
“Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) is implementing measures to mitigate possible truck congestion at the Port of Richards Bay, following the issuance of a Non-Compliance Stop Work Certificate on 13 July 2023 to one of its terminal operators,” Transnet said on Friday in response to Daily Maverick queries.
“The certificate instructs the terminal operator to cease operations until environmental management issues have been resolved in the identified terminals and other facilities occupied by the terminal operator. TNPA has urged transporters to halt the dispatching of trucks to the Port until the terminal operator complies with the conditions of the stop certificate.”
Employees are urged to exercise the highest level of caution in and around the port, especially during peak hours.
According to an internal document sent to employees and obtained by Daily Maverick, this refers to the dry-bulk and multipurpose terminals.
“Port Management would like to inform all employees of a potential increase in traffic congestion in and around the port due to a Non-Compliance Stop Work Certificate that was issued today to one of the terminal operators,” the document says. “The certificate instructed the terminal operator to cease operations until the environmental management issues have been resolved in the Dry-Bulk and Multi-Purpose terminals as well as other facilities occupied by the terminal operator.
“Employees are urged to exercise the highest level of caution in and around the port, especially during peak hours.”
Exports through the port include wood chips and copper concentrates.
Daily Maverick understands that everything but coal on rail has come to a juddering halt at Richards Bay. On top of that, the rail link to Maputo has a week-old derailment near Waterval Boven/Onder. This has led to massive snarl-ups: The Lebombo border post has a 20km backlog of trucks.
This was confirmed by Transnet subsequent to this story being published. “Freight Rail’s North East Corridor confirms that urgent recovery efforts are underway to restore its operations on the Maputo line. This after a derailment of wagons on the single line at Waterval Onder in Mpumalanga on Sunday. No injuries were reported. All wagons have since been cleared and line has been handed over to the Rail Network Unit for rail rehabilitation. The estimated time to repair and resume normal services is noon on Monday, 17 January 2023,” Transnet said in a statement.
The snag-up at the Port of Richards Bay will add to South Africa’s mounting logistical woes, which are costing the economy tens of billions of rands a year in lost minerals exports. The trucking industry is still reeling from the spate of arson attacks in recent days. And “environmental management issues” are almost certainly concerning.
The region has also been a flashpoint of social unrest linked to criminality which has at times impacted the operations of Richards Bay Minerals, a unit of global mining giant Rio Tinto. This at least has ebbed in recent months.
Meanwhile, the trucking industry – which is vital to the economy – is under huge strain. Snarl-ups are costly, and consumers may end up paying the price. DM (Additional reporting by Ray Mahlaka)