Port of Ngqura and Port of Port Elizabeth: Evolutions at South Africa’s ports

As South Africa seeks to enhance its position on the global economic stage, infrastructure development remains a huge demand, particularly with the need for deep water ports, which serve as a gateway to the world.

Across Africa, there is growing competition for port development, highlighting the need for investment in South Africa’s infrastructure. The $1 billion Ngqura port development has recently seen further deepening and capacity expansion, while there are confirmed plans for substantial investment in other facilities, according to the state-owned operator, Transnet. The company has confirmed there is a range of what it describes as ‘mega projects’ that fall within its ‘Corporate Strategy 2015-2020’.

shutterstock_253926292The Port of Ngqura has been increasing its role in the market since it opened in 2012. The deepwater Port provides a vital conduit to international markets. Strategically positioned on the global east-west trading route, this deepwater port offers global container shipping and other world class port facilities to businesses situated in the adjacent Coega Industrial Development Zone, and beyond.

The Coega Industrial Development Zone provides the back-of-port facilities and infrastructure to the deepwater Port of Ngqura. This makes for seamless integration between landside and marine infrastructure resulting in logistical and operational efficiency.

Construction of the Port of Ngqura is one of the biggest projects of its kind on the Continent and one of the largest undertaken in post-apartheid South Africa. The Transet National Ports Authority (TNPA) has invested R10 billion to date in the development of the Port of Ngqura, which is operated by Transnet Port Terminals (TPT).

Facilities at the Port of Ngqura include a 60-hectare container terminal, Transnet’s solution to South Africa’s long-time shortage of container capacity resulting from the growth in global container shipping. The depth of the channel and its location in the protected Nelson Mandela Bay make it one of the best positioned deepwater ports on the South African coast. Nelson Mandela Bay, which is protected from the prevailing south-westerly winds by a spit of land, has 330 anchor days a year. With only an overnight train or truck trip from the major centres of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, these port facilities are ideally situated to meet the needs of all import and export markets.

Working in tandem, the Port and Coega IDZ offers port facilities and infrastructure, with many added value benefits for investors, such as shortened lead times. Manufacturers based in the Coega IDZ benefit from the shorter lead times between the deepwater port and the factory gate for both exports of finished goods and imports of components.

Port facilities include reefer frames with 1,680 reefer points for refrigerated cargo to serve agro processors in the Coega IDZ and elsewhere.

The long-term development plan for the deepwater Port of Ngqura includes additional channels and basins, which would increase the total number of berths to more than 30. Once the second phase has been completed, this capacity will increase to 1.5 million standard containers per year.

The new 60 hectare terminal includes a 16.5m draft alongside the berths, enabling it to accommodate new-generation vessels of 8 000 to 9 000 20-foot equivalent units (TEU’s).

shutterstock_214476049The container terminal is the first in the country to boast the 110 metre-high Megamax ship to shore (STS) cranes which are able to service vessels with up to 22 containers stacked across their width. Twenty-two rubber-tyred gantries will complement the 6 Megamax cranes, further improving port facilities.

The TransNet website describes the Port as thus: “The Port of Ngqura is a world class deep water transhipment hub offering an integrated, efficient and competitive port service for containers on transit to global market and within the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Officially opened by the State President of the Republic of South Africa, J.G Zuma on 16 March 2012, the Port forms part of the Coega Industrial Development Zone but under the jurisdiction of Transnet National Ports Authority.

“In addressing the increasing global demand for Manganese export, Transnet National Ports Authority will be constructing a state of the art Manganese loading facility, positioning the Port of Ngqura as a leading Manganese Ore exporter globally. The relocation of the current manganese facility from the Port of Port Elizabeth to Ngqura, will increase the capacity from 5.5Mtpa to 16Mtpa.”

Whilst the Port of Ngqura is a relatively new development, its sister port at Port Elizabeth, has a long history stretching back to when the first British settlers began arriving from 1820. Today it is a multi cargo port on the western perimeter of Algoa Bay, 384 miles southwest of Durban and 423 miles east of Cape Town at Longitude 25º 42′ E, Latitude 34º 01′ S.

The harbour achieved port status in 1825 with the appointment of a harbour master and collector of customs a year later. In 1836 a surfboat service was provided for the handling of cargo and passengers, with the first jetty constructed in 1837. Forty years later in 1877 Port Elizabeth had developed into the principal port of South Africa, albeit still without a proper harbour, with annual exports valued at the equivalent of R6 million.

In 1933 construction of the Charl Malan Quay (No.1 Quay, now used as the Container and Car Terminals), was completed and Port Elizabeth now had a ‘proper’ harbour.  “It was gratifying to note that cargo was now consigned to Port Elizabeth, not Algoa Bay, and official records of freight were also similarly styled,” said the President of the Port Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce at the chamber’s annual meeting in 1935.

Agriculture and farming has always played an important role in the port’s activities, principally deciduous and citrus fruit and the annual wool crop. More recently containers have assumed an prominent role in the fortunes of the harbour, with Port Elizabeth serving its local industrial base and forming an alternate port of call to container ships whenever the Durban or Cape Town container terminals are congested.

Other principal products handled include manganese ore, which is railed from the Northern Cape, and petroleum products which are imported from other South African ports. The motor industry has long been an important industrial activity for the Eastern Cape and the port plays a leading role in this regard and boasts a large open area car terminal. The fishing industry also makes extensive use of the port. There are no major ship repair facilities but a slipway is available for fishing vessel repair. Passenger ships usually make use of one of the fruit terminal berths when calling at Port Elizabeth.

shutterstock_119411227The port’s container terminal has 3 berths totalling 925 metres in length and a storage area of 22ha with 5,400 ground slots for stacking purposes. The container terminal is equipped with latest generation gantry container cranes and straddle carriers.

The breakbulk terminal has 6 berths (1,170 metres), 2 bulk berths totalling 360 metres and a tanker berth of 242 metres. The port also has adequate rail and road links with other parts of the country.

The South African Navy has established a naval station at Port Elizabeth but does not maintain any ships here. In the future some of the port’s present commercial activity may be lost to the new and nearby port of Ngqura (Coega) although the car terminal and possibly the container terminal are likely to remain intact.

Port Elizabeth’s main features are the container terminal, fruit terminal and manganese terminal. The container terminal has a capacity in excess of 375,000 TEUs and has the advantage of being able to load railway trains directly under the gantry cranes, without containers having to be double handled, thus speeding up delivery to inland destinations.

There are 5,400 ground slots for conventional container handling. The terminal has three quayside gantry cranes and is supported by a number of straddle carriers. Motor vehicle components constitute a large percentage of the container traffic at Port Elizabeth, with other commodities including steel, machinery, wool, and agricultural products making up the balance.

Port Elizabeth has undoubtedly lost some of its container business to the new port of Ngqura (Coega).

Interestingly a Port Infrastructure Master Plan of just a  few years ago made provision for extending Port Elizabeth harbour with a new quay to the east of and adjacent to the No.1 or Charl Malan Quay. Whether such a facility will ever be built appears unlikely due to the development of the Port of Ngqura a mere 20km away.

The Transnet website underlines the importance of the Port of Port Elizabeth:


“Being a congestion free port allows it to maintain high cargo handling rates, fast and efficient ship turnaround and unparalleled service levels. The port is equipped to handle dry bulk, bulk liquid, general cargo and container cargo. Passenger ships usually make use of one of the fruit terminal berths when calling at Port Elizabeth.”