South Africa faces the challenge of COVID-19
On 23 March 2020, the President of South Africa declared a lockdown for a period of 21 days, effective from 27 March 2020, to stop the spread of the Covid-19. This lockdown period has been further extended with the introduction of 5 levels. At the time of writing, South Africa was entering week six of lockdown and operating on “level 4”, awaiting further announcements from Government as to when this will change.
Although all of South Africa’s main commercial ports have remained open for business and bunkering operations continued, the coronavirus outbreak has led to a significant drop in activity and restrictions on crew changes.
Ports were only operating at a capacity of around 30% during April, but this increased to 65% following the move to level 4. Vessel waiting time to berth in Cape Town in early May averaged four to five days, while in Durban it was more at about six days.
This has seen several vessels bypass South Africa in favour of Namibia’s Walvis Bay on the west coast, Mozambique’s Maputo on the east coast, or Port Louis in Mauritius. One shipping line was forced to introduce a ninth vessel into their rotation schedule due to the long waiting times to berth at South African ports that was impacting on their overall scheduling.
Many vessels are bypassing and returning at a later stage, or omitting South African ports completely.
Export volumes have seen a significant drop. Whilst imports continue to flow – albeit it at a slightly lower rate – there is a current imbalance in the country that cannot be sustained. A recent vessel in Durban brought in 4,000 containers and left with only 300 export containers.
This was indicative of the current situation.
In Durban only three berths were operational at the time of writing, sometimes four when becoming very congested. Cape Town was only operating two berths as of early May.
IBIA Africa Exco Member and owner of Lavin Energy, Chrystel Bassett-Simmonds advised: ‘”In order to understand the global impact on South African bunker demand, we looked at the historical data of the port calls for Cape Town, Richards Bay, Durban and Algoa Bay for Q1 2020. Cape Town has experienced a significant drop in port traffic for April of 32% compared with January (Durban down 23%), with volume down on bulk carriers, container vessels and interestingly, 28% drop in fishing vessels.”
She added: “Durban sees a drop in bulk carriers, container and cargo vessels calling port – in the region of 15-20%; and in Richards Bay bulk carriers are noticeably much lower in March than the start of the quarter.”
With regards to offshore supply from Algoa Bay, demand for VLSFO has remained consistent seeing a slight decline, with some interest in HSFO. Supply offshore has so far remained consistent.
Currently, South Africa’s three coastal refineries have closed with the only expected start up soon being The Astron refinery at the beginning June, however Astron have still been able to continue to supply VLSFO and MGO in Cape Town.
The feedback from our local South African members has been that bunkering volumes are down, but as the easing of the lockdown allows for the opening up of various services and industries, they remained hopeful with regards to an upturn in the not too distant future.
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