Saldanha Port actively looking for private partners.
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Saldanha Port actively looking for private partners.

The head of South Africa’s national ports authority has pledged to adopt a far more “activist” approach to the development of harbour infrastructure and terminal capacity “ahead of demand” and to do so in partnership with private sector investors.

Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) CEO Tau Morwe told business leaders in Johannesburg on Friday that all new terminal capacity would be the subject of competitive bidding processes and that it was, thus, likely that most new terminal developments would be built by private companies.

“With the implementation of the National Ports Act, any new terminal that will be built will be put out on tender and the best tenderer will win,” Morwe, who moved from Transnet Freight Rail to TNPA less than six months ago, explained.

He acknowledged, too, that there had been too few terminals developed over the past few decades, with only the new container terminal at the Port of Ngqura, which was operated by Transnet Port Terminals, having emerged in recent times.

But several new projects, which would be built in partnership with the private sector, were at an advanced stage of development.

One of these was the development of a new multibillion-rand ship repair facility at the Port of Richards Bay, in KwaZulu-Natal.

Morwe expected the lease agreement to be finalised with the Imbani Consortium, which has strong Chinese participation, by year-end. The facility could involve an investment of some R4-billion.

However, there were a number of other near-term projects that would also be pursued in conjunction with the private sector.

Strategy and transformation executive Nico Walters indicated that one of the most advanced projects was the development of new liquid-bulk terminal capacity at the new deep-water harbour at Ngqura, in the Eastern Cape. This facility would need to be operational by 2014 to accommodate the planned relocation of the tank farm from Port Elizabeth to Ngqura.

There was also an initiative under way with cargo owners to expand the Port of Ngqura’s general cargo and dry bulk facilities and to add new liquid-bulk capacity at the Port of Cape Town.

Walters added that plans for a new liquefied petroleum gas terminal at Saldanha, in the Western Cape, were also progressing well.


Morwe said that TNPA itself planned to spend R23-billion over the coming five years on infrastructure to support the growth in terminals, but was also in the process of canvassing these projects with its customers to ensure that the investment was appropriate. The bigger Transnet group would spend R110-billion over the same period on port, rail and pipeline projects, but was also interrogating a seven-year capital investment window worth R320-billion.

The ports authority had also launched a study to compare South African harbour costs with those of its international counterparts and would use the result to inform its future investment strategies.

For now, the overall emphasis was to facilitate the growth of new private terminals and to more fully integrate the ports with the economic development and job creation plans of the surrounding cities and towns, from Port Nolloth, Saldanha Bay and Cape Town on the West Coast, to Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Richards Bay on the east.

TNPA was also keen to align the terminal investments with government’s Integrated Resource Plan for electricity, which envisaged some 7 330 MW being generated by open-cycle gas turbines and 2 370 MW by combined-cycle gas turbines by 2030. Such a plan could necessitate the creation of liquefied natural gas infrastructure, possibly at the ports of Ngqura, Richards Bay, or Saldanha.

Morwe was also keen for South Africa’s harbours to tap into the opportunity arising to service oilrigs that were increasingly being deployed for exploration, development and production of crude off the west coast of Africa.

Currently, these rigs mostly bypass South Africa and are refabricated in Asia. But TNPA was working with the authorities and private industry in the Western Cape to develop Cape Town and Saldanha into service hubs for the energy sector. There were currently rigs in for repairs at three South Africa ports and Morwe estimated the average economic spinoff from each rig repair at around R400-million.

“We need to think out of the box to create the terminals that can take advantage of these opportunities,” he said, adding that the focus should be on deploying the necessary infrastructure rather than agonising over whether the volumes would flow.

“We need to build the capacity and the volumes will follow,” he concluded.

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