A court case due to be held in the Durban Regional Court this week could, if the plaintiff is successful, set a court precedent that will put the inefficiency of Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) right in the firing line. Abnormal load specialists, Project Logistics Management (PLM), is suing TPT for costs incurred “due to non-performance involving port operations”. It is alleged there was a failure by TPT to load vehicles timeously, and the fact they had to stand overnight meant they incurred demurrage. It would appear that the amount involved is not a massive sum, but at stake is the principle behind the case – where TPT in the past has always escaped any penalty for its incompetence.

It has been a litany of sins in the past few years. Quoting from Port Consultative Committee (PCC) minutes, there was a basic complaint. “With everything done in the port and all the monies spent over the last few years, the efficiency of the terminal has not improved. In fact, from a user perspective, it has gone backwards.” Translated into vehicle utilisation, this lack of efficiency means that transporters often have to stand waiting for a container or other cargo to be loaded for periods of 12 to 18 hours (and sometimes even more). Shipping line and truck company executives have over the years described the performance levels at the terminal as “atrocious”, blaming it on a combination of the non-performance of the TPT Navis port management system and equally underperforming productivity levels. This inefficiency has led to many companies failing. A headline case in recent times was in March 2012. That was when Durban’s oldest port cartage company decided to shut shop. It had been battered into submission by years of inefficient performance by TPT, Paul Rayner, MD and owner of the 109-year-old family company, DTB Cartage, told FTW at the time. But this TPT sin may be about to turn around and bite it on the shins. If the case is successful for the plaintiff, then the doors will be open for any company adversely affected by TPT’s lack of productivity to invoice them for the costs incurred.