Durban’s Niche in SA Logistics


Durban is the busiest container port in South Africa with approximately 2.58 million TEU movements per year. 13% of the TEUs are transhipment boxes that do not leave the port terminals leaving 2.2 million boxes to be transported by road and rail.

Container Movements through Port of Durban (TEUs: 2012)

           Source: TNPA

Approximately 57% of landed TEUs are transported by road from terminals to depots or to distribution centres and warehouses within eThekwini Metro or environs. About 430,000 (37%) are de-stuffed for redistribution all over the country, and 230,000 (20%) are delivered to companies that use the contents in their local businesses. In both cases the boxes are returned immediately to Durban empty container depots by road, (all 36 of which, are off-rail).

Due to the continual need to match ship arrivals, clear the terminals and to meet ship stack schedules, approximately 70% of container moves are between port terminals and local container depots. The process of shuttling fulls and empties between port terminals, depots and customers results in boxes being handled on road about 1.5 times per TEU, (both landed and shipped) with about 1.4 TEUs per load. This concentrated transport activity takes place within about 10 kilometres from the port.

In addition, 30.7 % of import boxes (351,600 TEUs; about 6.0 million tons) are transported inland by road, from depots and port terminals, to a wide range of destinations including about 70% in Gauteng. Road transport is cheaper, quicker, saves inland terminal and cross-haul costs, and delivers directly door to door. 190,000 TEUs (17% of imports) are transported by rail to inland terminals.

The major logistics activities that constitute a very valuable local  industry for  Durban is the movement of cargo between the port and distribution centres where the goods are handled in many ways before being reloaded for distribution to other areas of the country. Foodstuffs, textiles, clothing, chemicals, are received in semi-bulk packs and unpacked and subjected to a wide range of processes. The activities may include weighing, quality checks, sorting (into sizes and colours, and sometimes ironing and putting onto clothes hangers).They may be  processed or blended to meet local specifications; products are repacked, priced, labelled and warehoused to enable order picking to match the customer requirements at inland wholesale and retail outlets. In many cases the first level national stock of spares is held locally, for off-take as required in different parts of the country, or region.

The reassembled loads of products from various sources are then loaded into maximum cube or capacity vehicle combinations for direct delivery to customers; a refrigerated load may contain hake from Japan, tuna from Indonesia, salmon from Norway and prawns from China. For clothing retailers, the truck load will contain the assembled blouses, skirts, belts, shoes and toiletries (by sizes and colours) to match the new summer collection. For distributors of consumer goods the load mix may contain fans, fridges, TV sets, stoves, of different makes and sizes to match their market profile. For manufacturers the loads will contain the parts assortment required to match production schedules, thereby promoting JIT production planning and eliminating the need for stockpiles in the factory.

The reason for this very necessary logistics function is the relative size of businesses in South Africa; very few retailers (or wholesalers) need a 12 metre container full of one brand of shoes, or stoves, or bicarbonate of soda. Not many auto assemblers require several 12 metre containers of headlights, clutch-plates or steering wheels. The sophisticated Durban logistics industry rationalises the need for effective international bulk ordering, the ability to combine orders from all over the country, and then to use the most efficient method of local delivery.

The inland transport of containers by road is done mainly with flat-deck trailers that deliver directly to industrial customers such as large manufacturers, motor companies, equipment suppliers, building material distributors. Return loads by road (332, 921 TEUs) include empty containers to depots, South African exports, and increasingly, products stuffed into containers to take advantage of the reduced cost achieved by sharing the return cost of the box to the Durban depot,(or right back to the East). These cost savings arise mainly from the severe imbalance in the import and export numbers for both 12 metre and 6 metre containers).

The breakbulk cargo is transported mainly in box bodied and curtain sided trailers as well as some refrigerated vehicles. The volume transported by these vehicles amounts to approximately 6 million tons p.a. in both directions along the N3 corridor.

The efficiency of the road logistics system can be seen by comparing the capacity and tare weights of containers and two major vehicle combinations. 6 metre and 12 metre containers (high cube) have cubic capacities of 33.0 and 76.1 m3 respectively, whereas 6 and 7 axle combinations have cubic capacities of 147.0 and 189.0 m3 respectively. This permits the contents of 2-3 boxes to be loaded into one road vehicle.

Approximate Dimensions of Containers and Road Combinations

Note *: Now being exceeded

The tare weight of 6 and 12 metre containers are about 2.3 tons and 4.2 tons so that de-stuffing the contents and returning the box to depot has immediate advantages in improved transport payload efficiency, reduction in box leasing costs and elimination of the cost of returning the box from inland to a Durban depot.

It is noteworthy that 6 metre container weights both for import and export, are increasing to over 34 tons, which means that they exceed the legal capacity of vehicles on South African roads. Overweight containers are currently no problem at the ports as there are no operative official road weighbridges within 15 kilometres of any South African ports. Over-height containers also present no problems as there is tacit acceptance throughout the region that they are to be ignored, until legislation catches up, as has already been done in some countries. It is also noteworthy that railways can also only move one overweight box on a 40 ton x 12 metre wagon thereby making the operation most unprofitable.

Moving more maritime containers directly by rail to massive inland terminals will incur the attendant costs of terminal handling, cross –haulage and the back haulage of empty containers by rail, and road shuttle costs to depots. Inland clearance of large numbers of boxes will also no doubt result in inspection delays, and greatly increase the security risk regarding contraband and illegal cargoes.

All of the foregoing factors serve to illustrate the effectiveness of the Durban logistics systems and underscore the importance of the industry to the economy of Durban, KZN and the rest of the country. In addition they cast severe doubts on the logic of, and potential for, some of the stated objectives of central planners.

SAFTI – March 2014