Ships Kept Waiting off Cape Town Because of Inefficient Port

As many as two dozen ships at a time could be seen lying anchored in Table Bay the last few weeks, while berths in the harbour were almost empty. The Western Cape government said it has requested a meeting with Minister Pravin Gordhan to deal with the challenges facing Cape Town harbour that are losing the country business.

cape town table bay ships south africa
Ships lying waiting in Table Bay. Photo: SAPeople.

“We are very concerned about the operational issues currently being experienced at the Port of Cape Town,” said Western Cape MEC of Finance David Maynier. “With the announcement that three shipping lines are cancelling calls to Cape Town or implementing a Cape Town congestion surcharge from July, and that large volumes of citrus exports are being redirected to Eastern Cape ports to ensure to continuity in supply to markets, it is clear that urgency and resources are needed if we are to resolve the current operational issues at the Port of Cape Town.”

Maynier said that in addition to existing challenges at the port, COVID-19 has caused service levels to drop even further, and two weeks ago it was only 42 percent of the average for 2019 in terms of containers moved.

“In the last month or so, vessels have been waiting outside the port for two weeks before they could berth, some export orders from three months ago have not been shipped yet, several importers have been waiting for more than a month after the delivery date to receive their containers, and transporters are often able to deliver or collect only one container per day, which is not financially sustainable.”


The harbour is run by Transnet, and Maynier said the local government had forged strong partnerships with Michelle Phillips, the Acting CEO of Transnet Port Terminals, and her Cape Town management team and would continue trying to sort out the problems.

“We urgently need national government to address the operational inefficiencies which are leading to significant delays, further increasing the number of teams operating to get all cranes working in the port, and to address the structural challenges, providing a sufficient equipment fleet over the short to medium-term to get the service level required to meet importer exporter needs.

“We cannot go on like this, and so I have written to the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, requesting a meeting with himself and the Transnet management team to discuss interventions to address the challenges in the Port of Cape Town.”