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Durban, Cape Town & Ngqura rated poorly in latest World Port Rankings

The World Bank and S&P Global Market Intelligence container port performance index just published reflect that although the ports of Durban, Cape Town and Ngqura moved up a place or two, they remain ranked as among the worst run ports globally, rated 363, 364 and 365 respectively out of 370.

Journalist May 31, 2022
Updated 2022/05/31 at 11:46 AM

Who performed worse than Durban, Cape Town and Ngqura? It was Luanda in 366 place, Savannah in 367, Vancouver (Canada) in 368, and Los Angeles and Long Beach taking 369 and 370.

As one might gather from the last few ports in the rankings, this report is all about delays at the ports – the thing that really matters to cargo owners (shippers) and shipping lines alike. The US West Coast ports over the past couple of years have suffered badly in this respect for a host of reasons, Covid included – in the next report in 2023 expect to see more than a few Chinese ports occupying these spaces.

The three ‘bad boys’
So what then is the reason or excuse for the three ‘bad boys’ of South African ports, that they should rank worse than any other port in Africa other than Luanda? We cannot blame the congestion on huge unanticipated volumes, as per the US ports. In South Africa the volumes are below previous years, though there is an upward trend showing.

When the CPPI report for the previous year 2020 was made public in 2021, there was shock and surprise that went all the way to the presidents office, with President Ramaphosa subsequently making visits to Durban and Cape Town to ‘investigate’ the matter after port users had complained directly to him.

It is questionable whether this high level intervention has made much difference, the answer lies surely with their current rankings that sees them still adorned with the dunce caps among world ports.

Excuses and more excuses
Over the 20 years that Africa Ports & Ships has reported on South African shipping and specifically on its ports, the excuse most often repeated to explain the poor performance of our ports is a lack of efficient or sufficient equipment – ship-to-shore cranes, rubber tyre gantries, straddle carriers being the most identified, along with tractors and other sundry items.

Another reason trotted out is the lack of deep water terminals, principally at Durban and Cape Town. The result is that larger ships are restricted in terms of how many containers can be shipped to local ports. With more West African ports modernising and and now able to cater for ships in the 14,000 TEU range, this continues to count against large vessels ever arriving fully loaded at either Durban or Cape Town.

The result is that these ships begin to bypass South Africa’s ports.

Efficiency or lack thereof
What is never highlighted enough in general reports is the general inefficiency that persists within certain of the port terminals.

Instead, what is offered whenever adverse publicity makes the news headlines, such as during the president’s initial port visit, is a carefully structured story emphasising that the terminals ports lack modern efficient equipment.

Such claims ought to be questioned and not simply accepted as the reason why South Africa’s ports perform so poorly. As has been reported over the past 20 – 25 years, Durban, Cape Town and Ngqura have been more than adequately supplied with modern STS, RTGs, straddle carriers and other associated equipment.

Maintenance – what’s that?
What should be examined is why these costly machines are so poorly maintained that many have to be replaced while other ports elsewhere continue to operate even older equipment quite efficiently.

The bottom line
Why does an average size container ship calling at Durban need between four and five days to discharge and load cargo? We are talking here of relatively low numbers of containers to be handled, whereas the same ship on arrival in a European port such as Antwerp, Rotterdam, or Bremerhaven, can discharge and load in a matter of hours and be on its way sometimes on the same day?

To return to the numbers.
The Middle Eastern ports of King Abdullah port, Salalah, Hamad and Khalifa are all in the top five, the other port in this range being Yangshan (China) which rated third.

The highest ranked African port is Tanger-Med in Morocco, which occupied an incredible 6th place. To be fair, Tanger-Med, like most North African ports should be classed along with European Mediterranean ports. Be that as it may, the Moroccan port is capturing a large chunk of transhipment cargo away from Spanish ports and southern Europe ports.

As with just about everything in life, it’s all about position, position, position.

That principle applies equally to Durban, in a southern African context.

Another North African port that scored well is Port Said, coming in at 13th place.

Sub-Saharan Africa
If we look at sub-Saharan Africa, the highest ranked port is Matadi, the chief port of the DRC and as far up the Congo river as any ocean-going ship can travel. Matadi is ranked 176 out of the 370.

The port of Conakry in Guinea is West Africa’s top performer, rated number 239. Sierra Leone’s Freetown is next best at position 272, with Takoradi (Ghana) scoring 290. Closer to South Africa, Walvis Bay ranked in 332 position.

On the east coast of Africa, Mogadishu is a surprise as the fifth best sub-Saharan port scoring 254. Beira is ranked at 268 and Mombasa at 296, with Dar es Salaam a disappointing 361 out of 370. Maputo, a port that competes with Durban and perhaps even Ngqura, was at position 323.

How all this is calculated
A number of arguments can be justifiably levelled at how these ports are scored, with the answer being quite simply on the total port time per ship call.

Of course, there are large ports, medium size ports, and there are small ports, and all are lumped together on this scorecard. Coming from the perspective of the cargo owner and the ship operator, what matters however, is how much time his cargo or the ship is detained in each port.

The CPPI 2021 also ranks each port from an administration perspective, which looks at other factors including an aggregate of the performance of the port, weighted relative to the average, across call and vessel size.

In the majority of cases the rankings of each port in the statistical and the administration sectors, score the same or are not far apart. We show here only the statistical scores.

Another thing to keep in mind is that 2021 was a year that saw unprecedented port congestion and disruption to global supply chains, as did the previous year. Durban was adversely affected with the July 2021 riots. In next year’s report Durban will be affected by the recent flood damage that is still impacting some port operations.

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