COVID-19 staff shortages slow down Cape Town port operations

Port of Cape Town. Credit: Transnet

COVID-19 staff shortages and cargo congestion in the aftermath of strict lockdown regulations have severely hampered port operations at the Port of Cape Town.

The city is at the epicentre of South Africa’s pandemic with a cumulative number of 61,445 cases, as of 29 June 2020. There has been a large percentage of cases among container terminal workers, leading to a reduction in the number of gangs working vessels and causing berthing delays of up to a week. This also increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for ships’ crew.

“The port is committed to safeguarding port users and employees while ensuring the movement of cargo for our customers. It has been a challenge for all in managing positive cases of COVID-19 in our port, along with self-isolation, staff absences, and employee anxiety. Currently, we have 40% of staff on duty after Transnet Port Terminals added a fifth gang on the waterside,” said Mpumi Dweba-Kwetana, port manager of Transnet National Ports Authority Cape Town.

“We will continue engagements with industry, while upholding stringent safety measures. The terminal operator also continues to monitor shift performance and COVID-19 compliance on a daily basis and provides updates to customers,” said Dweba-Kwetana.

The country’s ports also experienced a decrease in ship calls and throughput volumes when the lockdown began. There was an increase in vessel waiting time at outer anchorage and a deterioration in berth turnaround time. As a result, a number of liner services, including DAL, CMA CGM, and the South Africa Europe Container Service, operated by Maersk, ONE, and DAL, have said they plan to bypass Cape Town.

The initial phase of the South African lockdown, which commenced on 27 March 2020, allowed only essential goods to be moved through the ports. This led to the port system being clogged up by cargo categorised as non-essential according to the government regulations. The Port of Cape Town was mostly affected in the agricultural sector.