Changes at Port Elizabeth’s port have allowed it to re-invent itself, finds Kerry Dimmer
It’s been some 53 years since South Africa’s Port of Port Elizabeth started servicing the export of manganese from a bulk terminal specific to the mineral. The 1,000 kilometres haulage of manganese by rail from the Northern Cape has, over the years, motivated a number of upgrades including, most recently, two innovative handling methods; a skiptainer operation at the container terminal, and another at its dedicated manganese terminal.
The upgrades have brought some relief to the port with construction underway of the mega manganese terminal at Ngqura, ahead of an anticipated increase in global trade. Currently, South Africa’s manganese represents 20% of world market share, but can supply up to 80%.
The eventual loss of the terminal to Ngqura is not seen as a negative however, as Rajesh Dana, port manager explains: “The number of developments that are underway or planned as a result are exciting. These include physical and economic benefits, allowing us to take advantage of the opportunities that the growing automotive industry presents.”
Despite the port’s long-standing reputation for efficient automotive handling, its vision is to become known as a premier automotive port and an automotive transhipment hub for sub-Saharan Africa. “Current ship working hours hover around 200 units an hour with one berth. In addition, we have an operational capacity of 200,000 fully built units with 5,000 parking bays, a car wash facility and road-rail connectivity. This capacity has been determined by the import/export split and dwell times.”
Unique selling point
Container handling has never been much of a problem for the port, however; its operational capacity is currently 400,000 teu. In 2013 it was recognised by Maersk Line for having the highest moves per hour in Africa during a three-month period. With two berths at its container terminal plus a multi-purpose terminal, a programme through a tender process is underway to introduce a third terminal, the aim of which is to ensure optimised use of two warehouses.
What the port has that no other in the southern region offers is the only 90-tonne boat hoist. From a ship repair and boat building perspective, this positions Port Elizabeth as a hub for such activities and has thus awarded a long-term developmental lease to a yacht manufacturer for the construction of a factory within the port environs. “We have also confirmed the refurbishment of the existing slipway cradles to cater for the VSP tugs used by the owner of the port, Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA), which will also service vessels of up to 1,200 tonnes,” confirms Mr Dana.
The worldwide trend to regenerate ports has also been at Port Elizabeth: “The TNPA has identified a commercial opportunity to develop a waterfront marina at our port,” says Mr Dana. “This is aimed at reintroducing the public to the port system. We recognise that progressive and sustainable ports co-exist with, and uplift, local communities. Once the pre-feasibility study is concluded during March we will be seeking a developer, and this has brought about much interest from national and global contractors.”
Location, location, location
Offshore business is also picking up. The port’s geographical location, in the middle of one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, combined with favourable weather and the protection of shelter in Algoa Bay, has attracted AEGEAN to set up operations and offices at the port, supplying bunker fuels to vessels calling in, or passing by.
Enjoying as it does, the status of ‘twin’ to the Port of Gothenburg in Sweden, Port Elizabeth is also working closely with that city’s university towards creating a collaborative maritime environment for the region of Port Elizabeth. But collaboration is something that Mr Dana confirms as usual business.
“Stakeholder engagement is crucial to all our decision-making process,” he says. “We continue to play an oversight role and ensure transformation in all facets of our operations, along with forward planning and new business development, managing our performance, safety and risk and the provision of integrated port management systems."
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