Thursday, November 1, 2012

Container Shipping Line Launches Forum to Solve Logistics Problems

Hard to Reach Inland Destinations are First Target
Shipping News Feature

SOUTH AFRICA – Container shipping line Safmarine has introduced a new forum aimed at assisting its customers in finding solutions to challenges in business. Held earlier this month, the focus of the inaugural Safmarine Business Link forum was on the logistical challenges of importers in South Africa’s landlocked Gauteng Province. According to Dieter Veening, Safmarine's Southern African Sales Executive:

"South Africa's extensive port and freight rail infrastructure upgrades, while essential to the long-term, sustainable growth of the South African economy, have resulted in short-term logistical challenges and high costs for several Gauteng shippers who are highly reliant on an efficient and cost-effective transport network. Safmarine's aim in hosting this forum was to openly discuss and assist in identifying solutions to the port- and rail-related issues facing our customers."

In its aim to assist its Gauteng customers in reducing costs and finding solutions to current logistical challenges resulting from the port and rail infrastructural upgrades Safmarine invited Transnet executives, Wiseman Madinane, Commercial Head of Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) and John Hyde, Transnet Port Terminal's National Planning Manager, to address customers on the extensive upgrades at the Durban Container port and inland City Deep terminals and, more importantly, to share their ideas on how to limit the negative impact of these upgrades.

The discussion that followed John Hyde's presentation on the Durban container port extension focused on how best to deal with the immediate operational challenges resulting from the decommissioning of vessel berths in the port as these are widened and deepened to meet future capacity requirements.

Also discussed was the option of discharging cargo, traditionally shipping via Durban, to other ports to reduce pressure on Durban as well as the need to reduce the container turn-around times. One of our previous articles has highlighted Transnet investment in other ports such as Ngqura.

TFR's service improvements and its role in reducing the overall cost of doing business in South Africa were the focus of Wiseman Madinane's presentation. He said TFR was aware of ‘the poor image of rail’ and was determined to find permanent solutions to improving its service. He continued:

“The company had identified the challenges on the rail network between Durban (Kings Rest) and Johannesburg (City Deep). These include lost containers, short shipments and lengthy container turn-around times, amongst others.”

Madinane added that TFR's immediate focus was on fixing what is already available and ensuring that the current rail system is more efficient and competitive. A commitment was also made to critically examine the current communication process in TFR and to identify improvements that would ensure accurate and efficient communication between service providers, TFR, Safmarine and their respective customers at the end of the supply chain.

As for moving more cargo onto rail, Madinane said the intention was not to kill the road business but rather to redefine the supply chain so that both road and rail can be more competitive and efficient. Doing so, and doing it right, he said, was vitally important to the South African economy and he also emphasised the environmental benefits of rail, adding:

“While rail had the advantage over road when it came to transporting large volumes of containers in a single journey, TFR's current rail product was an 'inflexible pipeline' that could benefit vastly from improved planning and communication. We know our service needs to improve and we're committed to doing so."

In conclusion Madinane also agreed that Gauteng's importers and exporters could not be expected to absorb the costs of diverting Durban import cargo to other ports as part of a Transnet decision to alleviate pressure during the Durban port upgrade. The long-term expansion and berth deepening plans for the Durban port as well as Transnet Freight Rail's plans to enhance the freight-carrying rail network in 2013/4 were also discussed as part of the Safmarine Business Link event.