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Deciduous fruit volumes are down 14% this season. From Moneyweb.

Trucks line up outside a container yard near the Port of Cape Town. Image: Nardus Engelbrecht/Gallo Images via Getty Images

The Cape Town Container Terminal (CTCT) has taken on dozens of new hires in hopes of rescuing a disastrous deciduous fruit export season, with port capacity hobbled by lack of capacity and bad weather.

The terminal operator, Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), on Tuesday announced the hiring of 62 new employees and an increase in the number of transport haulers from 33 to 44 to cope with the heightened demand for fruit exports this month.

Deciduous fruit volumes through the container terminal dropped 14% this season compared to last, largely due to lack of capacity and bad weather, with wind speeds up to 100 knots an hour.

“Weather is not our only problem but it really sets us back as we have to close the terminal for extended periods,” says Oscar Borchards, acting Western Cape managing executive at the terminal.

“As such, out of the seven rubber-tyred gantry cranes which were delivered in December, three have been handed to Operations so far”.

Another three cranes are undergoing final testing before handover to operations.

‘A disaster’

Anton Rabe, executive director at deciduous fruit governing body Hortgro, last week told Moneyweb@Midday that the port backlog was a disaster for the industry, with some producers now looking at alternative ports of export such as Walvis Bay and the Eastern Cape.

The CTCT is one of 19 terminals operated by TPT, many of them struggling to reduce backlogs due to lack of equipment, poor maintenance and inadequate staffing.

Durban Container Terminal Pier 2, which handles nearly half the country’s container traffic, was jammed with 20 ships at anchorage awaiting offloading in early December. That backlog has since been reduced to single digits.

SA port management has been a disaster, resulting in sweeping management changes at Transnet and new requests for proposals to expand port capacity.

The Cape Town terminal backlogs resulted in loss of income to producers, lowering of fruit quality, lost market slots and reduced profitability for exporters.

“This is actually the fourth year that we are really battling and ironically, Cape Town port was one of our best up to five, six years ago and then it deteriorated over time and there are a number of reasons for that,” Rabe told Moneyweb.

“Obviously, wind in Cape Town is a given, but it has become an excuse. But the equipment failure, breakdowns, long lead times with maintenance, getting equipment back on track, labour over the festive period was a huge, huge problem.”

CTCT says training for new lifting equipment operators is underway, with 26 completing the required training so far.

Transnet says the Cape Town terminal has handled 113 966 20-foot equivalent (TEU) units of reefer containers, exported to the EU, Asia, the UK and US.

Consistency

Borchards notes it is not uncommon for the team to take advantage of good weather when the opportunity comes and all required resources are available.

“There are pockets of excellence here and there, and performance records broken, however, it’s consistency that we need to focus on.”

Last week, the team recorded performance of over 1 950 TEUs over 24 hours against a daily target of 1 700.

A 24-hour command centre has been set up specially to facilitate business continuity despite a total of 202 hours lost to wind this month.

The terminal is closely monitoring its equipment ramp-up plan, with 25 rubber-tyre gantries (RTGs) in operation. By the first week of February, the terminal will operate a total of 29 RTGs, according to Transnet.