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Significant challenges for Port of Durban

Friday, 25 January 2019 | 00:00

Will South African ports be ready for the new IMO rules on exhaust emissions, when January 1 next year comes round?
On that date South Africa will have to ensure the quality of bunker fuel that is sold to visiting ships meets new international standards of quality regarding sulphur content.

Currently the global limit for sulphur content of ships’ fuel oil is 3.50% m/m (mass by mass). On January 1, 2020 the new global limit will be 0.50% m/m.

As far as our ports are concerned, in particular the South African Maritime Safety Authority and Transnet National Ports Authority which will both have to police these new standards, it will be all about compliance with the requirements.

Resulting from this new ruling, the area surrounding the ports – which for Durban means the CBD and beachfront and Bluff, Berea, Glenwood and Umbilo districts especially – will have less sulphur content in the atmosphere.

To achieve this, the ships plying our oceans will have to use fuel oil whose sulphur content meets the new standard for their main and auxiliary engines. The old standard has been in force since 2012.

When ships take bunkers (refuel) in port they will have to obtain a bunker delivery note stating the sulphur content of the fuel oil supplied. Similarly, all ships will have to be issued with international air pollution prevention certificates by their flag state, stating, among other things, that the ship uses fuel oil that meets the new requirements.

The big question is whether our refineries – of which there are two in Durban – will be able to meet the demand. South Africa has been actively promoting itself as a refuelling “halfway station” for ships to refuel and take supplies – particularly off Port Elizabeth where bunkering is done offshore in Algoa Bay, so the demand may be expected to increase.

The local refineries can generally meet local demand and even export quite a large quantity of bunker fuel. But this has a sulphur content of around 2.6% and, according to analysts, our refineries lack the equipment to produce bunker fuel with a sulphur cap of 0.50% or less, at least in the short term.

Fuel can be blended to lower the sulphur rate but this is an expensive option.

It will be interesting to see whether our ports and the relevant authorities are up to handling this new regulation as the clock ticks down.

Incidentally, as a result of this new IMO regulation, many of the container lines have already implemented surcharges to cover the additional costs of them converting their ships to emit less sulphur. That’s given them a year of additional revenue to “get ready” for the changeover.

Some of the equipment that ships may introduce include exhaust gas cleaning systems or “scrubbers” to reduce the SOx content. Vessels could use distillates, which is more expensive.

Some new ships including container and passenger vessels are being built to operate on liquefied natural gas, which has a zero sulphur rating and is considered in some quarters as one of the fuels of the future.

However the gas used as marine fuel consists of 95% methane which some experts consider to have a more detrimental effect on climate change than carbon dioxide.

Another challenge awaiting stakeholders in the port of Durban concerns the sudden halt called to the project of lengthening and deepening three container berths. This is something that was unfortunately if not inexcusably neglected when the harbour entrance was widened.

A R7 billion contract was awarded for the North Quay at Durban Container Terminal to undergo lengthening to 1 210m (from 914m) and deepened (from 12.8m to 16.5m). The quay will also extend a further 50m into the bay.

This project was awarded to CMI Entateni Joint Venture, consisting of Italian construction company CMC Ravenna and its 51% black-owned SA company, CMI Infrastructure, together with a number of black-owned empowerment and women-owned companies.

This is an essential contract aimed at enabling Durban to handle fully laden container ships of up to 14 000-TEU, which are already calling but are forced to arrive half empty because the shallow draught alongside the quays.

Almost before it started the contract came to a sudden halt, owing to alleged irregularities with the awarding of the tender.

“In the interest of good corporate governance, Transnet has decided to issue a stop work instruction on the Main Marine Construction Works contract pending the outcome of the investigation,” Transnet said in a statement when it halted the project.

For Transnet to suddenly pull the plug on such an essential contract means the latest allegations are being taken seriously.

In the meantime, South Africa’s principal port again suffers from another major contract delay without any indication as to when, or if, the contract will proceed.

Those are just two of the challenges facing this port as the year gets underway. Others involve ship repair and road access to the port, but those are topics for another day.
Source: The Mercury

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