Durban port a desert island
There are dozens of ships out there, they just can’t get into the clogged-up harbour
An American railroader named Henry Posner III once told me that railways were “stealth industries” because they happen out of sight, mind and, except for sound effects in Hollywood, usually out of earshot too.
Posner, previously known as “the Indiana Jones of African railroads” because of his investments in ramshackle lines in Mozambique and Malawi, also deep-sixed any prospects of doing business in South Africa after Transnet officials repeatedly failed to turn up to meetings with him that they had scheduled.
It’s no stretch of the imagination that the “stealthy” nature of rail operations can hide a lot of incompetence, at least from the public eye.
Until trucks flood the roads, of course, making traffic jams and potholes and causing irate citizens to wonder why all this stuff isn’t going by rail.
Never mind that the FM has written about this sorry train-and-lorry wreck, South Africa now seems to be waking up to the fact that it’s not just the railways that are in trouble but also the ports, as evidenced by the dozens of ships waiting off Durban and Cape Town for berths.
An estimated 70,000 containers are apparently marooned on ships in Durban’s roadstead while shipping lines reportedly impose surcharges of R8,000 a container in response to disrupted shipping schedules.
Transnet, which recently announced that a private port operator from the Philippines is its preferred bidder to manage Durban’s Pier 2 container terminal, says it will take 15 weeks to clear the 60 or so ships moored off the coast.
Until then, Durbanites, some of whom probably have stuff on those vessels, can mark the passage of time by watching ships come and go and perhaps take heart from the fact that every drop in the number of vessels marks an uptick in Transnet port performance.
So much for stealth.
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