Sunday Times

Suez jam could be felt in SA’s ports

- By NICK WILSON

● The Suez Canal logjam — caused by a massive container vessel blocking one of the world’s busiest shipping routes — may increase traffic to SA, raising questions about whether the country’s overstretc­hed ports can handle additional ships docking here.

Mike Walwyn, a director of the South African Associatio­n of Freight Forwarders and chair of the Cape Town Port Liaison Forum, an initiative of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the “monster oil tankers and container ships” are “too big to crawl into our ports”, but some smaller ships may have no choice but to try to enter SA’s ports if they require fuel, repairs or crew changes.

“This could have an impact on our ports. It’s too early to tell how much, but I have to assume that some of those vessels will be looking for something along our coast.”

His biggest concern is that SA’s ports are “not in good shape” and not equipped to handle extra traffic that could potentiall­y come their way through smaller ships needing to dock.

“Our ports will manage any extra traffic one way or another, but what worries me is the impact on our normal shipping traffic, which is already badly impacted by poor port performanc­e.”

The Suez Canal allows for a more direct and faster route between Europe and Asia, removing the need for ships to travel around Africa.

Bloomberg reported on Friday that efforts to dislodge the 200,000t Ever Given container vessel blocking the Suez Canal will take until at least Wednesday, longer than initially thought. This raises the prospect that the incident will trigger further disruption­s across global supply chains for exports and imports

of goods from oil and grains to cars.

About 12% of global trade transits the canal, and the queue of waiting ocean-going carriers loaded with billions of dollars’ worth of oil and consumer goods has risen to more than 300 from 186 on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg data.

Refloating the ship that is firmly wedged across the vital maritime trading route will require about a week of work and potentiall­y longer, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified.

Rescue efforts had initially been expected to last only a few days.

The Ever Given ran aground on Tuesday due to poor visibility caused by a dust storm and wind speeds that reached 40 knots, Bloomberg said, quoting a Suez Canal authority as saying that these conditions had resulted in a “loss of the ability to steer the ship”.

Explaining the challenges surroundin­g cargo handling at South African ports, Walwyn said cranes, mobile gantries and other equipment used to handle cargo have not received adequate maintenanc­e and break down more frequently, and cargo handling is slow.

Added to this is the fact that Cape Town is experienci­ng its windy season, which hampers cargo handling, already resulting in delays.

“At the moment Cape Town has a sevenday berthing delay,” he said, meaning ships have to anchor outside the port for seven days before being able to enter the harbour.

“We have vessels now bypassing Cape Town and dropping off cargo somewhere. They send it back to Cape Town on the next available ship,” said Walwyn.

“To give two extreme examples, in the last couple of weeks, one vessel coming from east to west bypassed Cape Town and dropped off the cargo in Ghana, and one going west to east bypassed Cape Town and dropped off Cape Town cargo in Singapore.

“The importer in these cases will still get their cargo because there is a legal obligation to do this, but what it means is that the importer will get their cargo eight weeks later than expected,” he said.

Asked to comment on whether the blockage of the Suez Canal would mean more traffic at South African ports, Andrew Sturrock, CEO of Sturrock Grindrod Maritime, said it is too early to tell what the impact will be on traffic as delayed vessels are still in a holding pattern near the canal waiting for the blockage to clear.

“We are on high alert and ready to take action as necessary,” said Sturrock.

Meanwhile, the Transnet National Ports Authority said in a statement that it is “unaware of any vessels calling at South African ports that may be delayed because of the Suez Canal blockage”.

“SA is not impacted at this stage. In a worst-case scenario where the vessel has not been moved for another few weeks, vessel traffic may be diverted to the southern tip of Africa resulting in an increase in cargo vessels passing South African ports,” it said.

“This could result in some vessels using local ports for refuelling services.”

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