THE R9-billion infrastructure upgrade and expansion of both Nelson Mandela Bay ports is on track, with Ngqura already seeing an increase in cargo vessel traffic since the beginning of the year.
The investment forms part of the Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA) upgrade announced by President Jacob Zuma in his state of the nation address last year. Zuma highlighted the upgrade as part of Transnet's national R300-billion infrastructure cash injection aimed at increasing investments into the country.
Of the R9-billion earmarked for the Bay's ports, R7.1-billion has been allocated to Ngqura and R1.9-billion for the Port Elizabeth harbour.
Two additional container berths at Ngqura have already been built, boosting the capacity from 800,000 containers to two million.
Future plans will see the city-centre harbour also increase its container capacity, from 500,000 to 1.5-million units.
Despite the billions of rands being pumped into Ngqura, the past year has seen a slump in vessel traffic, which port authorities attribute to the economic crisis in Europe.
But the end of 2012 and the new year provided a more optimistic picture, with ports authority spokeswoman Marjorie Makama saying Ngqura had handled more volume than had been forecast.
While volumes would be "under pressure" for the entire financial year, those in December and January "have increased dramatically mainly due to increased transshipment volumes". In January, the port also exceeded forecast budget volumes for the first time, she said. Ngqura staff handled 83,483 containers – almost 20,000 more than expected.
Makama added that improving the vessel turnaround times would ensure greater volumes were handled by the port.
Currently, Ngqura loads and offloads 32 containers an hour and this would improve further, she said.
Port authorities highlighted that separate plans to move the manganese ore terminal – which exports 5.5 million metric tons of ore a year – to Ngqura were under way and already at an advanced stage.
The move will increase the export capacity to 16 million metric tons per year and later to 22 million metric tons.
Makama said the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the manganese terminal had been completed and was awaiting approval from the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The port authorities forecast the move will be complete by 2017.
"Everything at this stage is still on track and our deadline as it stands now will be met," she said.
Authorities have also begun work on the EIA for the relocation of the fuel tanks from the city harbour to Ngqura.
The deadline for the tanks to be moved is 2016.
While these plans are under way, the port control tower is being fitted with state-of-the-art equipment that will boost productivity by ensuring vessels can move in and out of the ports more quickly.
"We are also in the contract stage of obtaining two hi-tech tug boats to ensure we offer the best service. In addition, a pilot boat was also ordered," Makama said. Also, the upgrade of the electrical network in both ports was almost complete.
In a bid to make Nelson Mandela Bay the country's premier automotive import and export hub, plans are under way to flatten the current liquid bulk fuel and manganese ore dump terminals at Kings Beach and use them as vehicle yards. The new car terminal will result in the vehicle storage capacity being boosted from holding 180,000 vehicles to 360,000 vehicles.
"With more space being used for the vehicle terminal it means more cars can be parked there for import and export.
"This in turn means various other car manufactures can also use our port for their needs," Makama said.
The increase in the car holding capacity falls in line with a R600-million investment by First Automobile Works (FAW), China's largest vehicle manufacturer.
They are building a vehicle and truck assembly plant at the Coega industrial development zone (IDZ).
According to officials, the factory is to be completed by December 2013. Production capacity during the first phase is estimated to be about 5,000 trucks and 30,000 passenger vehicles a year.
As part of the aim to increase automotive sea traffic through the Bay, Porsche SA has also confirmed that Ngqura will be used as the "preferred port" for importing their vehicles in the future.
Company spokesman Christo Kruger said that shipments would be brought into the Port Elizabeth port due to it being the most "convenient" port of call.
VWSA communications general manager Matt Genrich welcomed the expansion as it fell in line with the objective of making the Bay the automotive industry hub.
Meanwhile, plans for a leisure and recreational marine park to the south side of the ore dump and tank farm, also known as the waterfront, remain sketchy.
Authorities said these plans were still at a "very early" stage, although still "on the cards". Several other issues had to be tackled before the plan could be finalised.
The entire project is set to be completed by 2019.