The Port of Cape Town: The gateway to economic development

The City of Cape Town is undergoing huge infrastructure transformation at present. From improved roads and rail tracks, the local economy and socially deprived areas are now being boosted by better transport links – and the same is very much true at the local port.

The Port with the City in the backdropCape Town is situated approximately 120 nautical miles north-west of Cape Agulhas, the most southerly point in Africa. The Port has a long history as a hub of South African commerce, dating back to 1860 when the young Prince Alfred tipped the first load of rubble for the building of the Alfred Basin.

Since then the 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 of Cape Town 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.

Extensive precooling facilities at the IHS fruit terminal caters for deciduous fruit exports, whilst the Port also has one of the few cold stores in the world that can hold products at a temperature of minus 60 °C with a capacity of 10,000 tonnes.

The Breakbulk and General Cargo Terminals aim to provide economical and efficient general cargo handling services which meets the needs of both importers and exporters and a separate container terminal is located nearby at the Ben Schoeman Dock.

All of the quays have been equipped with the latest developments in crane and mechanical lifting technology and the Port is comfortable able to handle all kinds of materials handling challenges, with well equipped cargo terminals linked to a sophisticated inland transport infrastructure which links well to the Port to offer a total logistical chain for container cargo.

Such links are important, particularly when dealing with perishable goods – and the Port’s Container Terminal has the considerable advantage of a direct rail link for containers, which can save UK, European and American-bound cargoes up to five days of transit time transporting goods to other ports.

Transnet National Port Authority’s Cartage Department provides services to the container, Combi and Breakbulk Terminals. The business serves the clients by using specialised equipment for containers, haulers with a capacity of up to 30,000 kilogrammes and customised equipment for the transport of breakbulk and conventional cargoes such as timber, paper and steel products.

The normal area of operation is a 25 kilometre radius from the port but Breakbulk Cartage also offers longer runs and commonly transport goods as far as 50 – 60 kilometres.

The Port’s current upgrade includes the establishment of a satellite depot at Belcon, which will increase customer service by transporting containers between the container terminal and the Depot at night so helping to alleviate pressure experienced during peak periods.

Economically the Port is a linchpin to Gaunteng’s prosperity, a fact not lost in its mission to commit to a responsible, skilled and motivated team, using effective equipment in the interests of clients, employees, the environment, the region and South Africa. This philosophy has seen the Port strive for continuous improvement through a benchmarking exercise aimed at increasing productivity, reducing vessel turnaround times and by so-doing, raising the profile of Cape Town as a superior Port Authority.

Transnet National Ports Authority owns and operates two dry docks, a repair quay and a synchrolift in Cape Town. The Robinson Dry Dock is situated at Victoria Basin and hosts an overall docking length of 161.2 metres, while the Sturrock Dry Dock based at Duncan Dock, has an overall docking length of 360 metres.

The onsite Repair Quay is 456 metres in length and includes the synchrolift capable of handling 1,806 tonnes and vessels of 61 metres in length. The repairs themselves are carried out by private companies and the Port is home to ship repairs, engineering, refrigeration, hydraulics, cleaning and painting.

Refuelling vessels is another important service that the Port offers; in total there are 61 bunkering points at Cape Town, supplying marine fuel, gas oil and blended fuels – all delivered by pipeline, while gas oil arrives by barge.

Joint Bunkering Services (JBS) is a joint venture between BP South Africa, Caltex Oil, Shell SA and Engen Petroleum. Consumers can choose which oil company they want to supply their fuel while gaining from the economy of scale from the shared distribution system of the JBS.

JBS is a highly efficient operation offering fuel and lubricants to its marine customers while working within stringent health, safety and environmental controls. More than 80 % of fuel oil supplied by JBS comes from Caltex Oil, an operation that owns and operates a large modern 110,000 bpd refinery at Milnerton on the edge of the city and this is connected with most parts of the Port of Cape Town via 11 km of pipeline and a barge.

At present the Port is undertaking a container expansion programme which will increase capacity and further enhance logistical and storage services for the area’s fruit harvest. Harbour work has increased the depth of the entry to the Port, making Cape Town’s Container Quay the second deepest port after Coega.

The Port has also been given permission to accept bigger vessels and ships up to 325 metres in length can now berth and turn along the quayside, a development which out-going Harbour master Sabelo Mdlalose acknowledged: “This represents a quantum leap in terms of operational efficiency and logistic capacity and should provide enough capacity up to 2017 at least.”

Upon completion, the entire project is set to cost in the region of R5.6 billion and will increase container capacity to 1.4 million TEU’s per annum by 2013. It includes the deepening of the Container berth (Ben Schoeman) from the current 12.7 meters to 15.5 meters allowing bigger vessels up to 10,000 TEU’s to visit.

The project underlines Transnet National Port Authorities’ commitment to the Western Cape region and underlines the key strategic role that the Port of Cape Town has in the area’s future.