As Transnet re-evaluates its Durban port expansion plans, group executive for planning and sustainability, Mark Gregg- Macdonald, has indicated that there may – “but only may” – be a change in the date of the initial opening of the Durban dig-out port (DDOP). This, and the associated developments at the current port to increase its container capacity, will be viewed over the next quarter by senior Transnet executives as they examine the stats to come up with the latest plans for the years ahead. According to the latest SA Shipping Report, Q2 2015, from Business Monitor International (BMI), growth at SA ports is threatened by “the global headwinds that are posing challenges for the country as a whole” – namely the China slowdown and the drying up of foreign inflows. And, amongst its key findings, BMI forecast that 2015 total global trade growth was forecast at 4.3%, and would average 4.4% per annum to 2019. It also predicted that container throughput at the Port of Durban would grow by 2.5% in 2015, and average 3.2% per annum in the medium term forecast period to 2019.

FTW put these figures before Dave Watts, maritime consultant for the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (Saaff) national. “In the past, global trade growth has exceeded gross domestic product (GDP) growth by quite a stretch,” he told FTW. “So a 4.3% trade growth probably indicates our GDP growth won’t exactly blow the lights out.” His calculations showed that, on container growth, the average of 3.2%, if achieved, would bring Durban 2019 volumes to 3.1 million TEUs, from 2014’s 2.6m – well short of the planned final capacity of about 5m. (However, this 5m figure depends on which of the projects that could increase the current capacity of 3.5m are chosen. According to Gregg- Macdonald these are all still in the pre-feasibility/ planning phases.) “So,” Watts added, “this brings into focus the dig-out port once again. Perhaps the start-up time will go out some more.

“If the same rate of growth persisted it would be 2034 before we reached 5m. Not to say there would not need to be a start on a new port before that.” So, FTW talked to Gregg- Macdonald about that very subject. “No matter what we do, at the existing Durban port we will get a maximum capacity of 4.8 million TEUs,” he said. In 2014 a total of 2.664m TEUs passed through the port, and the latest estimates are that this max capacity level will be breached in 10 years’ time. So the driver for the requirement of the DDOP remains the same. Demand will exceed capacity in the existing Port of Durban in ± 2025, according to Gregg-Macdonald.

He also pointed out that, under the current demand requirement – given the present and forecast traffic volumes and the GDP status – the estimated date for completion was 2025. But he also confirmed that the construction commencement date was re-assessed annually. And that time is now upon us. “At this moment,” he said last week, “we have not changed our thinking on this port. But we are still looking at all the various options, including those at the present port, and including the Salisbury Island development.” And that Pier 1/Salisbury Island infill in the Durban harbour is the big extra capacity option in the old port. According to Durban port manager, Moshe Motlohi, it would create an additional 1.8-million-TEUs- per-annum container terminal, with a current completion date of 2021. He added that the project would include the reclamation of a 21-hectare area, creating 1 288 metres of productive quay length and sufficient for three berths. The required draught of these berths is to be -16.5m and the project will also need to include a deepening of the basin and the approach channel from the current -12.8m charted depth (CD) to -16.5m CD. This will allow the berthing of fully laden vessels of 9 200 TEU capacity with a draft of 14.5m. But Gregg- Macdonald was quick to stress that this still remained just one of a number of alternative options – and that nothing had as yet gone beyond planning stages. “Every year,” he added, “the percentages (for trade, container throughput and GDP growth) change. And we’re about to look at all the Durban expansion options. “They obviously all impact on the date of completion of the DDOP.” The required completion date for phase 1 of DDOP is dependent upon which of the expansion options in the existing port of Durban proceed, according to Gregg-Macdonald. “It doesn’t negate the need for DDOP, merely adjusts the date when the first phase of DDOP capacity is required,” he said. “The current view is still that first phase should be operational by 2025.”