Citrus exports delayed at Durban port

Citrus exporters have been frustrated by congestion at Durban Port over the past two weeks, which during its peak saw up to 200 trucks waiting two days to offload.

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There were multiple reasons for the congestion, according to Mitchell Brooke, Citrus Growers Association logistics development manager. “Citrus production from the northern regions is up by 30% to 40%. Producers want to get into certain markets earlier, such as Japan, where grapefruit is at a lower stock level. But because some shipping lines have withdrawn their service from Maputo Port, handlers have been forced to divert to Durban’s Fresh Produce Terminal (FPT),” Brooke said.

If the present trajectory continued, an additional 150 000t citrus could go through Durban Port. The subsequent increase in trucks to be offloaded and containers to be packed has put excessive pressure on capacity.

To add further strain, Durban Container Terminals’ Navis operating system – which governs the movement of cargo through terminals – failed from 2 to 11 May. This impacted on the delivery and packing of containers. “Stock at the FPT is at present three times higher than previous years,” Brooke said.

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Mark Wootton, Executive Manager of ICT Capital Projects and Technology at Transnet Port Terminals, said the Navis system had become unstable after an upgrade was carried out. “But the system is working normally again,” Wootton said.

The situation at the Durban Container Terminal has normalised with no congestion visible entering the terminal and with container packing continuing as normal. Shipping has started and fruit will be moving out to China. Loading has started on the first vessel bound for Japan and the pressure will be further eased as loading of the second and third Japanese vessels begins later this week.

“The bottleneck has eased because most growers took it upon themselves to stop packing and delivering citrus railings. But once packing starts again, it could lead to another congestion,” Brooke said.