Ships are starting to bypass SA ports as Transnet tells customers and staff of ‘sabotage’

Business Insider SA
Durban harbour
The Durban container terminal. (File/Getty)
  • Ships that had been due to call at South African ports are now headed to neighbouring countries, or skipping their African stops entirely.
  • A global shipping crisis and container shortage mean major shipping lines have no room for delays, agents say.
  • Transnet's IT systems went down nearly a week ago, with a huge impact on container movements in harbours.
  • It still hasn't publicly said so, but has admitted to staff and customers that it was a victim of hacking and "sabotage".
  • Even customers aren't getting details of what happened, and how long it will take to fix, other than "soon".
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Ships have started to bypass South African ports, and many more may now do so, after Transnet delcared force majeure at its port operations on Monday.

Container vessels that had been due to call at both Cape Town and Durban had been diverted, shipping agents said, in one case to the Port of Maputo, and in other onwards to its Asian stops, bypassing the continent entirely.

Importers – already struggling with shortages of key goods – will now have longer to wait for containers on those ships. Just how long is not yet clear; a global shipping crisis and shortage of some types of containers already has the industry overall scrambling. Those same troubles have made shipping lines allergic to delays they can not quantify.

Cape Town shipping traffic
Real time vessel movement around the Cape Town port, via

In a statement on Tuesday morning, Transnet said its force majeure declaration on Transnet Port Terminals " is expected to be lifted soon", but provided no other details on its timeline, or the underlying cause.

"The terminals are berthing vessels as planned and facilitating loading and discharge operations with the shipping lines," it said. "We will continue to work directly with shipping lines in order to facilitate maximum import evacuation and further exports planned for future vessels. Controls have been developed, in conjunction with the shipping lines and SARS' Customs division to ensure safe clearance and evacuation of each container."

Logistics operators say the flow of containers had effectively ground to a halt.

Some of Transnet's computer systems were shut down on 22 July, in what the company described only as a "disruption". It has yet to publicly talk about the reasons, and has not answered questions. But it told staff that it was a victim of hacking, and has now told customers it suffered "cyberattack, security intrusion and sabotage".

"It is expected that some applications may continue to run slowly over the next few days, while monitoring continues. All operating systems will be brought back in a staggered manner, to minimise further risks and interruptions," the company said in its statement.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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