Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Cape Town port ranked the worst in the world

The index ranked four of South Africa’s container ports at the bottom of the list.

The shocking ranking of South African ports on a global index has been concerning for fruit farmers in the Western Cape who are halfway through their exports for the season.

The index ranked Cape Town’s port as the worst from the list of ports around the world.

According to the global Container Port Performance Index (CPPI), which ranked 405 global container ports during 2023 by efficiency, focusing on the duration of port stay for container vessels, Cape Town was ranked 405 out of 405.

The Index is developed by the World Bank and S&P Global Market Intelligence. The fourth edition was based on the biggest dataset ever: more than 182 000 vessel calls, 238.2 million moves and about 381 million twenty-foot equivalents (TEUs) for the full calendar year of 2023.

More than 80% of merchandise trade is transported by sea and therefore, the resilience, efficiency and overall performance of ports are crucial for global markets and economic development. The primary aim is to identify areas for enhancement for the benefit of multiple stakeholders in the global trading system and supply chains, from ports to shipping lines, national governments and consumers.

Ranking of four SA ports concerning

Roelf Pienaar, managing director of Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, says the Cape Town port rating is worrying and damaging for South Africa’s reputation as an export country.

The index ranked all four of South Africa’s container ports at the bottom of the list. The others did not do well either, with Ngqura in Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape at 404 and Durban at 398, while the port in Qgeberha performed the best of all the South African container ports, although it still sits at a dismal 391 on the Index.

ALSO READ: Chaos at ports will cost the country, businesses and consumers

The ports in neighbouring countries, often used as an alternative, also did not do well. Walvis Bay in Namibia ranked 382 and Maputo in Mozambique ranked 371.

Last year, only 348 ports were ranked on the index, with Cape Town at 344, Gqeberha at 291 and Durban at 341.

“We are extremely worried about the situation, which should be considered a significant barrier to trade. An efficient and resilient port is key to the success of our industry,” Pienaar says.

Bad Cape Town ranking while apple and pear export increase

Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing is the largest apple and pear exporter in South Africa, accounting for about 20% of national exports.

According to industry body Hortgro’s estimates, the export apple crop will increase by 6% this year and the pear crop by 5%. The majority of the fruit is supposed to leave the country through the port of Cape Town, but due to the logistical challenges, costly alternatives, such as transporting fruit via road to Qgeberha and exporting from there, are implemented.

ALSO READ: Sustainability of Cape fruit farmers at stake due to ‘enormous’ port problems

Chris Knoetze, managing director of Link Supply Chain Management, a logistics company co-owned by Tru-Cape, points out that the South African fruit industry faces stiff competition from Chile and its prominent exporting ports, San Antonio and Valparaiso, improved their positions on the index. San Antonio improved from 253 to 110 and Valparaiso from 188 to 151.

“Productive ports attract more vessels, leading to increased shipping capacity, possibly lower shipping fees and more shipping options. It also ensures a constant flow of products to the market, putting the Chileans in a more competitive position. To improve our international competitiveness, it is crucial to sort out the crisis in our ports.”

Knoetze is not surprised about the port of Cape Town’s position at the very bottom of the index but he points out that the index is based on 2023 data.

“All other South African ports moved down on the index, indicating that the problem lies with Transnet. However, during the past six to eight months, some constructive staff changes occurred at Transnet and a detailed terminal recovery plan was put into action. Transnet focuses on the right things, but it will probably be another six to twelve months before productivity increases.”

Measures to improve Cape Town port efficiency

Some of the positives happening over the past six months at the port of Cape Town include putting seven second-hand rubber tyred gantries (RTG’s) into operation, new engines for RTG’s, an increase in the truck capacity from 38 to 45, negotiations with OEMs such as Liebherr, Kalmar and Kone Cranes for repairs and maintenance and the implementation of a technical team to attend to broken equipment.

ALSO READ: How to fix Transnet’s ports in the interest of economic growth

To determine whether there is a real improvement at the port, GCH (gross crane moves per crane hour) should be applied as a productivity measure, Pienaar believes.

“Measuring the average number of completed container movements per hour is the only way to know if things are improving in the port of Cape Town, as it influences the turnaround time for trucks as well as ships. For the past three months, this figure has remained stagnant at only about 40% of what was achieved in 2011,” Pienaar says.

“While we recognise the improvements at the port, we remain concerned about productivity not increasing,” Pienaar said.

Knoetze agrees. “The productivity figures are proof that things are not looking up in the port. It might be slightly better during some weeks, but we would like to see long-term consistency.”

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Cape Town World Bank