By Annisa Essack
A major economic feature and tourist attraction in Durban, the Durban port, could be in line for a historical facelift, which may see the naval base and the petrochemical operations relocated.
The port’s general manager, Moshe Motlohi, in an exclusive interview with The Mercury, today unveiled a draft “master plan” that promises to restore the port to its glory days when it was the number one marine facility in Africa.
Motlohi says Transnet was in a consultation process to gain approval for the implementation of the plan, which aims to fast-track the port’s growth from the current 2.9 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of containers to 11.3 million TEUs annual container handling capacity.
He says that although the eThekweni port remains one of the largest ports in Africa in terms of cargo value and vessel calls a year, in recent years it has lost this status to Morocco, followed by Egypt.
“We need to revitalise the Durban port and its surrounds as a matter of urgency so that we are attractive to Eastern countries as a cost-effective port in which to do marine business.
“We should be able to have even the largest of vessels having no problem entering our harbour mouth, being able to make a turn and to berth or dock,” he said.
This refurbishment is in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement in the SONA recently, which will involve the bulk terminal – that houses the petroleum, chemicals, vegetable oils and lubricants operations relocating, possibly to Richards Bay.
The 75-year-old SANDF naval base will also be relocated to Richards Bay, a move that would create an opportunity to upgrade facilities for the SA Navy, which are presently constrained on Salisbury Island, into a world-class military system able to respond quickly to piracy from the northern waters.
A welcome part of the plan is the upgrade to the railway network around the city to limit the high volumes of truck traffic currently causing bottlenecks in and around the port precinct.
Another ambitious addition to the plan is to include either a fly-over from the Point precinct on to the western outskirts of the city or an underground subway would have to be erected to prevent inner-city congestion.
“We want to move away from roads to railways,” Motlohi said.
“Upgrading the railway infrastructure, and security around it, in the vicinity of the port and around the city of Durban is a must,” he said.
To aid in decongesting the port, the Cato Ridge precinct would be developed into a private sector driven intermodal industrial cluster that would assist in the truck off-loading and on-loading zone, linking the N3 freeway to the railway from the port. According to Motlohi, this would contribute to the socio-economic objectives of Southern Africa through job creation and supplier development.
The master plan considers issues of climate change and the green environment in a bid to curtail the use of petrol- and diesel-based transportation.
“The world is moving away from petrol and diesel, and so we should align with the global trends,” he said.
The plan also sees the moving of the coal and gas storage to Richards Bay would help consolidate the Port of Richards Bay as an industrial port, enhancing it as a complimentary port system.
According to Motlohi, consultations are ongoing with every stakeholder from eThekweni town planners, environmentalists, and the business community to ensure that the port master’s plan is in line with eThekweni’s master development plan.
International experts will also be called in to review the plan to see if it is achievable and feasible.
The plan, in its finality, will bring a significant injection into the local gross domestic product with positive yields for the city, the province of Kwazulu Natal and the country in terms of job creation.
“As soon as it is in place, as Durban, we will be a port that will attract investment. We will be a port that is a hub for the whole of the Southern Hemisphere.
“There would no longer be a need for the global community to use alternative entry points into Africa, just because we don’t have the capacity to handle their huge vessels,” said Motlohi.
The planned expansion of the port in terms of the port master development plan has been welcomed by the Provincial Executive Council and after a briefing by a delegation from Transnet, the cabinet to has given its support.
According to Motlohi, plans will be finalized by 2035 and more cost-effective than previous plans that would also take place much later.