Durban Port impacted by South African unrest

The number of soldiers deployed on the streets of South Africa has increased to 25,000 as the army and police continue to struggle to calm the country down after days of looting and violence had led to supply difficulties and a danger that food could run short.

At least 72 people were reported as killed in the worst unrest in the country for years.

Maersk has announced the closing of all its depots, warehouses and cold stores in Durban and Johannesburg. Maersk spokeswoman Kerry Rosser said on Wednesday July 14th that “the port of Durban has had many of the terminals shut over the last 24 hours. However at this stage we have not triggered any contingencies that will cause ships not to call at Durban”.

In the Mobeni area of Durban, several food warehouses and a rice depot had been invaded and ransacked, according to Sky News correspondent John Sparks. He described the scene as absolute chaos and out of control, with looters carrying off what was inside the facilities. He said they had brought cars and trucks to fill up their vehicles with what they could get their hands on.

Although thousands of soldiers have been deployed to support officers and try to restore law and order, Sparks said the army was nowhere to be seen and that people were “helping themselves”.

Russell Group’s ALPS Marine data analysis has identified that South Africa’s key ports of Durban and Richard Bays Terminal have a combined $19bn loss exposure from the current violence. Exports of key commodities, including coal, were being restricted, according to the data.

Durban and Richard Bays Terminal have suspended their operations. Durban is one of the busiest terminals on the African continent with an annual flow of trade of $13bn, according to Russell’s risk modelling software. The port imports key commodities such as Crude Oil, with a value of about $80m being imported into the port annually.

The Richard Bays Terminal is a vital coal-exporting terminal with an annual flow of trade of $6bn. The terminal exports coal and iron ore.

Transnet, the South African logistics company that is responsible for the operations of the country’s ports and terminals declared force majeure on the July 12th and suspended terminal operations at Durban and Richards Bay.

Russell Group managing director Suki Basi said that “the current disruption in South Africa reinforces the fragility of interconnected global trade. Whether it is political violence, blockages or natural disasters, organizations and their partners in their business network are vulnerable to any disruption at a port with the aftershocks of that disruption rippling through their network.”

In an update yesterday July 15th Gard said that its Durban P&I Correspondents P&I Associates (Pty) had reported that the Durban Port operators, TNPA (Transnet National Ports Authority) and TPT (Transnet Port Terminals) had declared force majeure for the Port of Durban. The correspondent also reported that the various private terminals had followed suit and issued their own force majeure notices. The terminals were unable to operate without personnel and cargo which is trucked into the port.

P&I Associates further reported that Richards Bay marine services – pilots, tugs, berthing staff – resumed operations on July 14th, although at a reduced capacity. Loading operations at the various TPT facilities were being carried out, depending on the availability of staff and labour, although Gard said that it appeared that the situation was improving. Cargo operations at the private Richards Bay Coal Terminal appeared to be normalized.

P&I Associates reported that Kwazulu-Natal remained a volatile province. “We are all uncertain what will transpire over the next few days and whether the Police and Army will be able to restore order and take control of key points”, P&I Associates said.

“The situation is volatile, additional ports may also be affected, and members and clients should seek updates from their local agents when voyage planning. Movements ashore while the action is ongoing should be minimized and special attention should be given to any planned crew change arrangements via South Africa at this time”, Gard concluded.