The Port of Cape Town: Adapting to the challenges of a modern commercial port

Across South Africa the wheels of industry continue to turn, with property development still very much en vogue. With the weakening of the Rand, the nation has become a popular tourist destination, with Cape Town becoming an important aspect of this growth.

In early January 2014, the New York Times identified the port city of Cape Town, South Africa as one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.

Cape Town’s Victoria and Albert waterfront development is one of the city’s premium tourist attractions, having being developed from a dockyard that had originally been built to accommodate wind-driven sailing ships that at one time, had carried the world’s trade.

With modernisation and competition rife within the Continent, there is much debate as to the Port of Cape Town’s future, with discussions considering plans to develop a larger terminal for passenger tourist ships as well as a new industrial area across Table Way, from the waterfront of Cape Town’s central business district.

shutterstock_210525865The Port of Cape Town, operating under the Transnet National Port Authority name, has developed into one of Southern Africa’s most important links in foreign trade, strategically placed, as it is, to serve as the “Tavern of the Seas”. Currently the Port is undertaking a major expansion programme which will further consolidate this position, and hopefully guarantee a future as lucrative as the past.

The Port is a full service, general cargo port, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Marine services include port navigation, pilotage, towage, mooring, pollution control, security and a 200 tonnes SWL floating crane, while bunkers are supplied at most berths. In addition the Port boasts two dry docks and a synchrolift which are available for ship repairs.

It has long been recognised as a hub for the global transport of South Africa’s agricultural yield. It is the last domestic stop for deciduous fruit and perishable and frozen products which of course includes fish, delivered at the quays by a fleet of trawlers, before being transferred to Duncan Dock, which is fully equipped for open and cold storage.

Among the initiatives under consideration for the Port is the introduction of a wave-protected zone, which would provide the right conditions for the operation of a semi-submersible mobile dry dock, enhancing the Port’s capacity for carrying out repair work.

If introduced, such technology could partially submerge under a ship hull then raise the hull out of the water to allow maintenance and repair personnel access to areas of the hull that are usually submerged.

“There are 34 berths in total including layby berths,” describes the Transnet Ports and Ships website (

“The Port boasts extensive ship repair facilities. The main dry dock, known as Sturrock Dry Dock has an overall docking capability of 369.6 metres length and is 45.1 metres wide at the entrance top with a depth of 14 metres. The dock may be divided into 2 sections of varying lengths.

“The Robinson Dry Dock in the Victoria Basin measures 161.2 metres in length with an entrance top of 20.7 metres and a depth of 7.9 metres.

“The port also has a synchrolift capable of handling ships up to 61m in length, 15m beam and 1,806 tonnes, as well as a repair quay situated in the Duncan Dock. Berth A near the harbour entrance is given over to ship repair by a private company.

“The adjacent Victoria and Alfred Basins have a variety of berths available for ship and boat repair as well as berthing of smaller vessels, including research vessels and visiting naval ships. Cape Town has 2 main terminals, or business units for cargo handling purposes.

“The Container Terminal contains 6 deep-sea berths. They are served by a fleet of post-panamax gantry cranes for the larger container ships now in service. The Multi Purpose Terminal in Duncan Dock handles fruit, steel, paper, maize, wheat, rice, timber, coal, scrap and other general cargo, as well as passenger cruise ship,” the site describes.

shutterstock_108395399Of course the future of the Port of Cape Town is part of a much bigger plan for South Africa. In July the Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said she was keen to present the National Transport Master Plan to cabinet before March 2015.

However this remains dependent on internal processes within the Department and a planned consultation process.

“I am currently unable to give an indication on the timeline for public engagement, but there will be public engagement,” she commented.

Back in 2010, the Department of Transport presented Parliament with an early version of its plans, which included expanding the Port of Cape Town, and forming partnerships with the private sector to help fund projects and lower the burden on taxpayers.

In the meantime, the allure of Port of Cape Town’s facilities was evidenced last November, when it was announced that the newly upgraded A-berth was set to become the sole domain of DCD Marine Cape Town.

“The size and infrastructural capacity of A-Berth, as well as its strategic location on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, makes it an important part of our ability to offer a one-stop service to our clients,” DCD Marine Cape Town GM Gerry Klos said.

“Our clients rate A-Berth favourably because of what it offers them in terms of strategically located facilities and convenience. Its location in Cape Town is also of pivotal importance, as the city boasts all the necessary amenities, access to support companies and infrastructure for international shipping clients,” Klos added.