Durban dig-out port plan likely to be delayed

July 24, 2014 — Leave a comment
Old Durban airport - site for new Dig Out Port (Picture credit: ACSA)

Old Durban airport – site for new Dig Out Port (Picture credit: ACSA)

The first phase of Durban’s dig-out port, which was expected to generate hundreds of jobs and turn the city into the shipping hub of Africa, would not be ready by 2020 as planned, and the current harbour might have to be expanded to provide a short-term solution. This emerged at a KZN Freight Task Group meeting recently where Transnet dig-out port programme director Marc Descoins admitted that a new completion date was being investigated.

‘The actual start date of the new port is uncertain as we are still in the early design phase,’ Descoins said last night. Technical issues, such as the requirements for the construction of a new single buoy mooring to replace the existing one, were affecting timelines. Other factors affecting the development were being re-examined, but Descoins did not give further reasons for the delay.

Transnet was still tracking demand forecasts to ensure that capacity creation was aligned to demand, he said. Nevertheless it had other plans for port expansion to ensure capacity met this demand. If an alternative could be found to expand the capacity of the port, the dig-out port project at the old airport site could be set back by a few years, he said.

However, a previously discussed option – the expansion of the current port into the Bayhead area – was ruled out by Descoins, as complex problems involved in developing the area as an additional container terminal would take at least 15 years to resolve. Engineering and technical businesses in Bayhead did not appear shocked at the news yesterday, saying they knew expansion in the area would not happen.

One of the most seriously considered – and quickest – options would be for the container terminal on Pier 1 to be expanded in the direction of Salisbury Island. This would also provide Durban with increased container capacity. A decision on this could be made soon, but if this option was decided on, the dig-out port might be even further delayed as Transnet would not develop both projects and create unnecessary capacity in the short term.

However, the dig-out port project would not be cancelled, and preparations at the old airport site would continue, Descoins said. Transnet had warned that without the dig-out port Durban would not be able to meet medium- and long-term shipping capacity demand. The project would increase the volume of container trade at the Port of Durban from the current 2.69 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) to between 9 million and 12 million TEUs over 30 years.

Durban was also the first choice for a port upgrade because of its good infrastructure, although the road and rail systems need to be considerably upgraded. Completion of the feasibility study was scheduled for the end of 2015 followed by a four-year construction phase. The first ships were expected to come into the port in 2020. For this to have been achieved groundwork would have had to begin by the end of 2016. Transnet bought the old airport land in 2012 for R1.85 billion. Building the port was expected to cost R75bn to R100bn over the next 30 years.

Desmond D’Sa, chairman of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, was pleased with the delay, but said the project should be abandoned.

‘Why do we even need another port? It is only going to become another white elephant like the Coega Industrial Development Zone in the Eastern Cape.

‘This is all about people with big pockets, and the extra time will only allow corruption.’

Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Andrew Layman said imports and exports from the harbour were not accelerating as much as expected.

‘This is reflected in the international trading market. South Africa is not the flavour of the month.’

There had always been plans for expansion of the current harbour, he said.

‘This is because ships are bigger these days – it needs to be deepened and widened. So I don’t think it is a case of one or the other.

‘The need for the dig-out port is not as imminent as originally thought, and money is probably not as readily available either.’

Layman said it was not ‘a train smash’ as jobs had not been created yet, but it was unfortunate that job creation would be delayed.

‘It is understandable that it would be further delayed in the current climate.

‘It would be pre-emptive to start construction as the system still needs a lot of work, such as our tariffs, which are higher than most ports around the world, and our service delivery.’ Source: The Mercury

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