While Transnet last night announced that its ports were fully functional after a crippling cyber-attack that lasted several days, the citrus industry was considering the Port of Maputo in a desperate attempt to secure its exports.
Last week, the state-owned enterprise reportedly admitted to staff and clients that its IT systems were halted following “security intrusion and sabotage”.
This forced Transnet to manually operate its container terminals in Durban, Cape Town, Gqeberha and Ngqura – a near impossible mission given the sheer volumes handled by these ports.
Last night, the rail, port and pipeline company said the main system responsible for container operations were restored. This allowed clients to fully access the links to facilitate exports and imports.
On Tuesday, the cyber-attacked forced Transnet to declare a force majeure. This is a contractual clause that frees parties, like Transnet, from its obligations during unforeseeable circumstances.
Transnet’s IT woes could not have come at a worse time, said Cornel van der Merwe, chairman of the Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA).
First, the citrus industry suffered delays following anarchy earlier this month in parts of KwaZulu-Natal. Some of the major routes leading to the Durban and Richards Bay ports were closed. Not even two weeks later, Transnet suffered a severe cyber-attack, again affecting ports and exports.
“Ports were operating very slowly causing a backlog, constraining cold stores and packhouses,” said Justin Chadwick, chief executive of CGA. “The return of port operations to full operational capacity can only be termed unbelievable.”
While repairs are being carried out at Transnet, Chadwick said manual systems were being used to shift cargo, which have slowed down operations at the ports.
Is Maputo a better option?
However, citrus being shipped via break bulk vessels have not been impacted due to this fruit being serviced by private terminals in domestic ports.
“As a result, there is currently a backlog of fruit across the citrus supply chain causing temporary delays when it comes to fruit being exported to key markets. In order to ease pressure on South African ports, growers are also diverting fruit to the Maputo port.”
A week ago, Transnet asked growers to either pause packing or pack at a slower pace while it was restoring its IT systems.
However, producers cannot do this for long periods, according to Chadwick. “So, we have to look at the Maputo alternative, keep abreast of how Transnet is going with resuming normal service, and hope that the issue is sorted out quickly.”
Meanwhile, Transnet reported that some operations over the next few days may still be delayed.
All operating systems will be brought back in a staggered manner to minimise further risk and interruption. As of last night, the Durban container terminal was fully functional with a few other interface systems also showing great progress.
Furthermore, all container terminal have transition plans in place to move back from a manual operation to the full Navis-driven system. Navis is used by Transnet to digitally move cargo to where there is sufficient capacity to service it.
“The terminals are berthing vessels as planned and facilitating loading and discharge operations with the shipping lines. We will continue to work directly with shipping lines in order to facilitate maximum import evacuation and further exports planned for future vessels,” Transnet said in a statement.