Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist


Transnet calls World Bank out on Cape Town being ‘worst port in the world’

The World Bank ranked 405 global container ports for duration of port stay of container vessels. Cape Town port was ranked 405 out of 405.


Transnet has hit back at the World Bank for calling Cape Town’s port the worst in the world in its 2023 Container Port Performance Index for 2023. The entity also met with World Bank representatives on Monday to discuss factual errors in the index.

Michelle Phillips, group executive of Transnet, says in a statement that the World Bank incorrectly uses the duration of a vessel’s stay as a measure of a container port’s cargo handling performance, while it also relied on third-party sample data and failed to give a measured terminal access to the data sample for verification before publication.

“Upon entering a port, many role players service a vessel before the actual loading and offloading of cargo. These services contribute to the length of its stay. The World Bank’s measurement of vessel stay in port does not take into consideration throughput and other factors that determine the duration of a stay.”

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While the World Bank does not guarantee the accuracy of the data in the report, the results purport to be an indicative measure of port performance, she says. ”In the meeting, the Bank’s Transport Specialists advised that The index is not a comprehensive indicator of container terminal performance and that it only seeks to advise on the stay of a vessel in a port. Therefore, Transnet believes that the index is not correctly titled.”

The report is based on available data from Automatic Identification System (AIS) and liner shipping data. Phillips says an accurate performance index can have a positive and constructive impact on plans to improve port cargo handling performance.

Transnet not afforded opportunity to comment

“On the other hand, an inaccurate index has a damaging reputational effect on measured terminals. Accordingly, it is key to afford measured terminals an opportunity to assess the sample data for verification. Transnet has not been afforded any opportunity to comment or verify the accuracy of the data or the facts attributed to it in the report.”

Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) has been requesting access to this data over the past few years, without any success, she says. “In the meeting, it was agreed that this data would now be made available to allow Transnet an opportunity to interrogate it. There was also a general acceptance that the report should have been made available to measured terminals to provide them an opportunity to comment, with commitment that this would happen going forward.”

Phillips says Transnet should be given a right of reply before any report about its performance is finalised or published. Phillips says Transnet only became aware of this report through the media.

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Transnet has been transparent on Cape Town port challenges

“Transnet has been transparent with the industry through several roadshows and have explained the challenges in the ports and the interventions being implemented to address the root causes of these challenges.”

She says the industry is aware that as a result of inclement weather and equipment challenges, TPT’s Durban Container Terminal (DCT) Pier 2 and the Cape Town Container Terminal experienced severe backlogs in the last quarter of 2023.

“However, since October 2023, Transnet has been implementing a Recovery Plan to improve operational and financial performance across the business. As a result of various tactical initiatives pursued as part of the Recovery Plan specifically targeted at improving productivity and optimising the operations, it is clear that there has been a stabilisation in the business as well as real improvement in rail and port operations.”

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Recovery Plan in place with these initiatives

The Recovery Plan initiatives include the acquisition of cargo handling equipment and contracted original equipment manufacturers that are onsite to provide technical support and supply critical spares for the existing terminal fleets.

A 24-hour maintenance regime is also in place to secure the availability and reliability of existing equipment. While the weather continues to disrupt operations, contingency plans are in place and integrated planning and collaboration engagements with customers and industry are ongoing. TPT has also enhanced its container management system with the help of US-based NAVIS, Phillips says.

“Transnet continues to work with its partners, customers and all stakeholders including academic institutions and industry bodies to improve its overall performance and make its customers globally competitive.

“We continue to collaborate with all our partners to ensure that we remain on course in the implementation of the Recovery Plan and necessary reforms despite historical underinvestment in equipment and maintenance across the business.”

As a business, Phillips says, Transnet prioritises handling cargo and moving all the volumes it can to serve South Africa’s economic needs and its recovery efforts are yielding tangible results.

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