Saturday, April 2, 2011

Freight And Container Handling Halted By Extreme Weather

Sometimes Nature Sends us a Reminder
Shipping News Feature

SOUTH AFRICA – 2011 may well be the year the world remembers as the one when everything stopped due to natural disasters as so far we have seen a catalogue of unforeseen catastrophe’s affect the freight industry and so much more besides. Some things however never change and windy conditions have resulted in cargo operations being halted at container depots in Cape Town as shipping companies struggled to maintain ocean freight schedules.

Storms around the Cape of Good Hope, ‘Cape of Tempests’ in the original Portuguese translation, have been a fact of life for generations of sailors, not for nothing is this where the apparition of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ beats her eternal fruitless passage attempting to round the headland. Now comes news of just how bad this season has proved so far. Just the first three months of 2011 have already seen 62 separate wind stoppages totalling 551 hours at the Cape Town container terminal – more than half of 2010’s full total of 964 hours lost to wind over 83 separate occasions. Velile Dube, Terminal Executive for the Western Cape region terminals operated by Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), says:

“We thought December 2010 was a bad month, but January and February 2011 brought us the very worst conditions with wind speeds of between 120km/h and 140km/h, and gusts up to 160km/h. The wind continued non-stop and totally halted operations for nine days combined in February. This resulted in vessels being seriously delayed. Once the terminal started operating again and the stacking yard opened we found we were unable to process trucks quickly enough because they all started coming through at once.”

For safety reasons, port operations are stopped when the wind reaches 80km/h. Rubber-Tyred Gantry (RTG) cranes are currently limited beyond 72km/hour, ship-to-shore (STS) cranes beyond 80km/hour, while straddle carriers can operate safely up to 90kph. To maintain continuity Transnet Port Terminals has been running a hybrid operation in the terminal, using both the new RTGs and the old straddle carriers to transfer containers from vessels into the stacking yard.

The terminal had to schedule system downtime every four hours so that its operating system would not crash under the pressure and when the wind becomes prohibitive cargo is diverted to areas of the stacking yard still being serviced by the straddle carriers. The terminal has also implemented tandem lifting and dual cycle operations, where containers are discharged and loaded simultaneously from a vessel using ship-to-shore cranes. The terminal also diverts vessels to the neighbouring agricultural and RoRo (agri-roro) section of the terminal, which is less exposed to wind gusts and can still operate even when the container terminal has ceased operation.

Cape Town’s windy season runs from September to March and coincides with the peak period for reefer cargo being exported at the harbour. Historical data collected indicates the wind is increasing year by year and blowing for longer periods. The worst months in 2010 were March with 145 hours lost, followed by January 2010 with 133 hours lost.