It will take four and a half months to clear the backlog at the Durban harbour, with 63 vessels anchored and waiting to be processed.
This was revealed by Transnet Port Terminals managing executive Earle Peters in a media briefing.
Peters said poor weather, equipment breakdowns, and shortages have caused significant delays in processing ships.
Durban’s two piers lost a combined 265 operational hours in September and October, causing more than 20 vessels to wait at outer anchorage, with berthing delays averaging up to 18 days.
The port is Transnet’s largest container terminal, handling 46% of the country’s total port traffic and over 60% of its container traffic.
The port is already facing severe congestion and hefty fines from shipping lines. The breakdown of essential equipment has triggered a crisis at the port, a vital artery for the country’s container traffic.
So far, Transnet estimates that it has lost R160 million since September and will continue to lose millions more from the delays.
This is relatively financially insignificant to Transnet as it rakes in over R70 billion in annual revenue but severely affects the country’s ability to conduct trade.
This negatively affects the country’s financial health, trade balances, and potential economic growth.
“We are confident in our ability, having faced major unforeseen challenges successfully in the past, some much bigger than our current position,” Peters said.
Once the backlog has been cleared, Transnet plans to ramp up the movement of containers at Pier 2 from 2,500 to 4,000 a day over three months.
A worse crisis than Eskom
FNB Wealth and Investments’ Wayne McCurrie recently said Transnet is a bigger catastrophe than Eskom and is causing severe economic damage.
Speaking to Business Day TV, McCurrie said most South Africans do not realise the extent of the disaster because it does not touch them personally, like Eskom’s load-shedding.
“The average South African don’t realise what a complete and utter catastrophe Transnet is. It is way worse than Eskom,” he said.
McCurrie’s comments align with Krutham managing director Peter Attard Montalto, who also said the crisis at Transnet is more complex than that at Eskom.
Attard Montalto explained that Transnet has quasi-regulatory functions on top of its deteriorating rail and port infrastructure.
Transnet’s finances are in such a mess that it asked the National Treasury to take on R61 billion of its debt.
Attard Montalto said it is not a surprise, as Transnet had already been breaching loan covenants with banks at the beginning of the year.
He said that the Treasury has little choice but to come through in some form and provide support for Transnet.
“If you did not do these bailouts, they would come back to bite you ten times worse later regarding defaults and investors pulling out of the country.”
The problems at Transnet have severe economic consequences for the South African economy as it impacts many of the largest sectors.