South African ports ranked among worst in the world

 ·7 Jun 2024

The Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth ports, the busiest in South Africa, have been ranked among the world’s worst performing container ports, according to the World Bank’s recent 2023 Container Port Performance Index (CPPI).

The World Bank’s CPPI ranks 405 global container ports by efficiency, focusing on the duration of port stay for container vessels. 

The overall Global Ranking of Container Ports ranked Cape Town as the lowest at 405 out of the 405 measured ports, Ngqura at 404, Durban at 398, and Port Elizabeth at 391.

Conversely, the World Bank’s top-ranked container ports in the CPPI 2023 are:

  1. Yangshan (China)
  2. Salalah (Oman)
  3. Cartagena (Colombia)
  4. Tangier-Mediterranean (Morocco)
  5. Tanjung Pelepas (Malaysia)
  6. Chiwan (China)
  7. Cai Mep (Vietnam)
  8. Guangzhou (China)
  9. Yokohama (Japan)
  10. Algeciras (Spain)

“Container ports are critical nodes in global supply chains and essential to the growth strategies of many emerging economies,” said the World Bank.

As a result, the World Bank says that the CPPI is important to pinpoint areas for enhancement that can ultimately benefit all parties involved, ranging from shipping lines to national governments and consumers.

Using data from the full calendar year of 2023 and only including ports that have a minimum of 24 valid port calls, the CPPI utilises two methodological approaches: an administrative (or technical) approach, which relies on expert knowledge and judgment, and a statistical approach using factor analysis.

The World Bank said that these approaches aim to ensure that the ranking reflects “actual port performance while being statistically robust.”

The rankings from both these approaches are then combined using a rank aggregation method to produce one aggregate ranking.

It explained that such a ranking system is necessary because “efficient, high quality port infrastructure can facilitate investment in production and distribution systems, engender expansion of manufacturing and logistics, create employment opportunities, and raise income levels.”

However, “poor performance at one port could disrupt the entire schedule. This, in turn, increases the cost of imports and exports, reduces the competitiveness of the country and its hinterland, and hinders economic growth and poverty reduction,” added the World Bank.

A prevalent factor in the indicators is port arrival time. While the global port arrival time decreased by 1.8 hours, on average, Sub-Saharan Africa overall showed an average two-hour improvement in arrival time across all vessel sizes.

However, the index shows global improvements were slightly offset by increased average arrival time in ports, including that of Cape Town.

South Africa’s port woes

Last year, South Africa’s ports reached a crisis point with extreme congestion, with the South African Association of Freight Forwarders (SAAFF) said that delays at ports have had direct costs to the South African economy of R98 million ($5.2 million) a day, while the movement of around R7 billion worth of goods had been impeded.

While data shows that congestion at Durban in particular has eased since, woes persist.

State-owned logistics company Transnet has stated that South Africa’s port issues are complex and cannot be immediately overcome due to serious equipment and maintenance backlogs.

The state-owned entity, which is R130 billion in debt and has a R50 billion backlog in port and railway infrastructure nationwide, has said it would invest in maintenance and new equipment, but this would only begin arriving later on in 2024 and expected to yield results in 2025.

In a meeting of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) at the end of 2023 to discuss ailing state-owned entities, the deputy minister of public enterprises, Obed Bapela did not mince his words when discussing Transnet’s lack of investment in equipment, infrastructure, maintenance and subsequent corruption.

“Obviously there are challenges [with Transnet] that have been captured and topical now,” said Bapela. Those in charge “did not invest enough in the infrastructure, and in expanding all that infrastructure… some of them are 50 years old, some 60 years old,” he added.

He also noted that money had been spent wastefully, irregularly and had fallen to corruption. “Locomotives have been bought, and unfortunately the way it was done, corruption came in, and as a result, those locomotives are stationary, without parts,” said Bapela.

There have been increasing moves and calls to open up South Africa’s ports to private investment. CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, Busisiwe Mavuso said that she believes that “the use of the public-private partnership model will be crucial in upgrading the country’s ports.”

Moves have been made in this regard, with Phillipine port giant the International Container Terminal Services Inc. given the right to buy almost half of the main container terminal in the southeastern city of Durban and operate it for 25 years.

“I have no doubt that the private sector can and will play a more significant role in government-driven infrastructure, thereby reducing pressure on public finances and increasing the number of projects in the public sector investment programme,” Mavuso previously said.

The full World Bank report can be found here.

Read: Transnet and billionaire’s port plan hits a roadblock

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