Tuesday, September 8, 2020

How One Port Operator Made the Best of the Pandemic Problems at a Peak Time

A Main Gateway Closed During Record Fruit Season Meant Adapting Elsewhere
Shipping News Feature

SOUTH AFRICA – When the Port of Cape Town was negatively affected by the current pandemic, just as the citrus harvest season was about to hit record heights, it was up to the Transnet National Ports Authority’s (TNPA) other Nelson Mandela Bay ports to take up the slack, which they appear to have done with alacrity.

Apart from handling the fruit at the Port of Port Elizabeths break bulk facilities, the two Eastern Cape ports’ container terminals estimate they will have handled more than 460,000 pallets by the end of the fruit season. So what is the secret of such success at such a time?

Firstly Sujit Bhagattjee, TNPA New Business Development Manager, together with Marine Operations and the Harbour Master, spearheaded a request from the shipping lines for fruit to be handled at the port’s Multi-Purpose Terminal. This resulted in the Perishable Products Exports Control Board (PPECB) giving their stamp of approval. TNPA says the port’s customer-centric and flexible approach accommodated an increased number of vessels handled.

Additionally Port Elizabeth has seen the resurgence of palletised fruit, mainly at the Multi-Purpose Terminal, due to a worldwide shortage of reefer containers and also some of the receiving ports in the world using older technology. During the Covid pandemic and the citrus export season, the Port Elizabeth Container Terminal has once again proven its strategic importance to the complementary South African container terminal system in supporting the SA economy.

With the fruit season expected to continue until week 40 that ends in September, with the possibility of extension due to demand from European markets, Sujit Bhagattjee commented:

“Our Covid-19 compliance and available capacity played a major role in our success. The port firstly addressed the Covid-19 impact by introducing standard operating procedures, granting clearance on a per shipment basis. The port had to ensure that the shipping lines, vessel agents and terminal operators are fully compliant in terms of the Covid-19 protocols. This effort has ensured that the Port of PE has not turned away any vessel to date.

“We also focused on the importance of sound infrastructure, equipment and human capital. These include power and additional plug points in the container terminal, the capacity of the two new mobile cranes as well as the health and safety of our people. TNPA and its terminal operators continued to comply with all standard Covid-19 preventative measures as guided by the Department of Health.”

The port said there were five key areas to focus on to ensure success; Customer service – engaging with all key stakeholders; People – the port activated its Business Continuity Process in March addressing safety of the workforce; Asset utilisation – Marine Operations Manager, Ophelia Shabane, was tasked with ensuring the tug fleet and berthing crew was manned to serve customers; Safety – temperature checks, thermal scanners and health declarations all played a part; finally Cost control – despite the restrictions the port had to ‘work smart’ to ensure expenditure remained at a sensible level.

Photo: An aerial view of Port Elizabeth.