South African freight forwarders association highlights efforts after poor port report rankings

Oliver Ochieng, bird story agency…

The Southern African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) has raised concerns over a recent report which assessed over 182,000 vessel calls, 238.2 million moves, and 381 million TEUs in 2023 in an index highlighting performance of ports globally.

The Container Port Performance Index (CPPI) 2024, released by the World Bank and S&P Global on June 4, placed several South African ports at the bottom of the list.

The port of Mgqura and Cape Town port are the bottom two respectively. The port of Durban is ranked fourth last.

In response to the report, association CEO Juanita Maree highlighted that the report solely focuses on 2023, which she characterized as a crisis-ridden period in the country’s history and that it fails to consider the corrective actions implemented under the new management of the state port operator, Transnet.

Also, Maree explained that the timing of release did not shed light on the development and improvement mechanisms currently in place, under Transnet.

“The timing of its release unjustifiably tarnishes today’s developments, casting doubt on the efficacy of robust corrective action underway and the hard work of the recovery teams and the leadership of the National Logistics Crisis Committee – a strong strategic public-private consultative initiative by government that serves as the anchor,” said Maree, in a press release.

“Nevertheless, using a vessel’s stay duration as the sole measure of container port performance without considering other factors like throughput and handling rates, highlights key obstacles to using the findings to measure container port performance accurately on a comparative basis,” she explained.

Congestion has previously plagued ports in South Africa, with the port of Durban experiencing delays of up to 8 days.

However, multi-sector approaches have been deployed to address these inefficiencies. For instance, last year, Transnet partnered with Philippine-based International Container Terminal Services to expand Durban’s Container Terminal Pier 2, aiming to alleviate congestion.

Beyond the poor assessment of South African ports, the report highlighted significant progress in the overall efficiency of African ports. African ports reduced vessel waiting times at the fastest rate globally last year.

It showed that African ports had slashed port arrival times by an impressive 2.0 hours for all vessel sizes, underscoring the success of targeted infrastructure upgrades and strategic policy interventions in enhancing the efficiency of Africa's ports.

Overall improvements and reductions in average arrival hours were being driven by Dar Es Salaam, Monrovia, Douala, Pointe-Noire, Tema, Luanda, Lagos, Port Victoria and Dakar.

“Furthermore, the World Bank concedes that it is impossible to see from the data whether waiting time is voluntary or forced, and that it is difficult to find a suitable level at which to discount waiting time in this scenario,” Maree said.

Importantly, however, CEO Maree acknowledged that there are valid points in the report.

“What is critical now, is that South Africa’s port system needs to bring in specialisation and investment through private-sector participation, allowing for competition between the ports and terminals,” she noted.

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