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PO Box 162
6000 PORT ELIZABETH
Tel 041 507 1710 or 083 287 4386 (Port Manager)
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Port Elizabeth has been an important port and harbour on the South Africa east coast ever since the first British settlers began arriving from 1820. Today it is a multi-cargo port on the western perimeter of Algoa Bay, 384 n.miles southwest of Durban and 423 n.miles east of Cape Town at Longitude 25º 42′ E, Latitude 34º 01′ S.
The first recorded reference to the area was by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias who landed and erected a cross at Kwaaihoek in Algoa Bay on 12 March 1488. Nine years he was followed by Vasco da Gama, another Portuguese explorer who became the first European to discover a sea route to India around Africa, when he passed Algoa Bay in 1497. For several hundred years thereafter the area was noted in navigation charts as a “landing place with fresh water.”
Following the arrival of British settlers in 1820 the harbour achieved port status in 1825 with the appointment of a harbour master and collector of customs a year later. In 1836 a surfboat service was provided for the handling of cargo and passengers, with the first jetty constructed in 1837. Forty years later in 1877 Port Elizabeth had developed into the principal port of South Africa, albeit still without a proper harbour, with annual exports valued at the equivalent of R6 million.
In 1933 construction of the Charl Malan Quay (No.1 Quay, now used as the Container and Car Terminals), was completed and with an opposing breakwater, Port Elizabeth now had a ‘proper’ protected harbour. “It was gratifying to note that cargo was now consigned to Port Elizabeth, not Algoa Bay, and official records of freight were also similarly styled,” said the President of the Port Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce at the chamber’s annual meeting in 1935.
In spite of its auspicious start, Port Elizabeth had remained poorly equipped for the handling of ships, with little protection from the open sea until 1935 when the Charl Malan quay was completed, followed by additional quays leading to today’s modern port.
Agriculture and farming has always played an important role in the port’s activities, principally deciduous and citrus fruit and the annual wool crop. More recently containers began to assume a prominent role in the fortunes of the harbour, with Port Elizabeth serving its local industrial base and forming an alternate port of call to container ships whenever the Durban or Cape Town container terminals were congested. That role has since been usurped by the addition of a new port at Ngqura, some 22km north-east of Port Elizabeth.
Other principal products handled include manganese ore, which is railed from the Northern Cape, and petroleum products which are imported from other South African ports for local use. The motor industry has long been an important industrial activity for the Eastern Cape and the port plays a leading role in this regard and boasts a large open area car terminal on the Charl Malan Quay.
The fishing industry also makes extensive use of the port, in particular trawling for chokka (squid). There are no major ship repair facilities but a slipway is available for fishing vessel repair. Passenger ships usually make use of one of the fruit terminal berths when calling at Port Elizabeth.
The port’s container terminal has three berths totalling 925m in length and a storage area of 22ha with 5,400 ground slots for stacking purposes. The container terminal is equipped with modern latest generation gantry container cranes and straddle carriers.
The breakbulk terminal makes use of 6 berths (1,170m), while there are two bulk berths totalling 360m and a tanker berth of 242m. The tug, fishery and trawler jetties measure 120m, 165m and 136m respectively.
Port Elizabeth has adequate rail and road links with other parts of the country. The rail link with the Northern Cape is being upgraded to handle heavier manganese and ore trains.
The South African Navy has established a naval station at Port Elizabeth but currently does not maintain any ships here. A considerable amount of container traffic has been lost to the nearby port of Ngqura, and this is expected to be followed by the loss of liquid bulk and manganese ore products within the next few years. The container terminal at Port Elizabeth will continue in operation, a least for the foreseeable future, while the car terminal may take on a more prominent role in the activities of Port Elizabeth.
The entrance channel to Port Elizabeth is maintained at a depth of -14.5m Chart Datum and has a generous width of 310m. Limitations on vessels using the port are 11m draught for passenger and dry cargo vessels, 11.2m for container ships, 12.1m for ore carriers and 9.6m for tankers, all according to berthing. Deeper vessels may be accommodated with the permission of the harbour master. Tug assistance and pilotage is compulsory. Ships may anchor outside the port in Algoa Bay provided the approaches to the entrance channel are kept clear.
The port has a fleet of three tugs including two modern 70-ton bollard pull tugs, and Pilot services are performed by a pilot boat (named Tsitsikama) or workboat. The port also makes use of a harbour launch/work boat.
Marine services are available 24 hours a day seven days a week. Dredging services are provided by dredgers from either Durban-based Transnet Dredging Services as required. The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) maintains a base at Port Elizabeth.
Cargo handled during the calendar year 2016 amounted to 11.228 million tonnes (including containers) compared with 11,538 million tonnes for the year 2015, 2,924,492 tonnes were containers.
Containers handled in 2016 totalled 152,455 TEUs compared to 216,629 TEUs for 2015. Although some of this loss is on account of the economic downturn affecting South Africa, another proportion has been lost to the nearby port of Ngqura.
Port Elizabeth handled a total of 1085 ships during the 2016 calendar year (2015: 976 ships, with a total tonnage of 29,212,589-gt (2015: 29,073,520-gt.)
Port Elizabeth’s main features are the container terminal, car terminal, fruit terminal and manganese terminal. The container terminal has a capacity in excess of 375,000 TEUs and has the advantage of being able to load railway trains directly under the gantry cranes, without containers having to be double handled, thus speeding up delivery to inland destinations.
There are 5,400 ground slots for conventional container handling. The terminal has three quayside gantry cranes and is supported by a number of straddle carriers. Motor vehicle components constitute a large percentage of the container traffic at Port Elizabeth, with other commodities including steel, machinery, wool, and agricultural products making up the balance.
The breakbulk terminal handles a variety of agricultural products including wheat imports and the export of fruit (deciduous and citrus) as well as steel, scrap, timber and motor vehicles. At the bulk facility the storage bins have a capacity of 350,000 tonnes of manganese ore, which is the major bulk export from Port Elizabeth. Smaller volumes of other ores are also handled here.
The port offers bunker facilities at berths 13, 14 and 15 (ore and tanker berths), with diesel oil available at the Dom Pedro Quay (trawler quay).
In July 2016 the first offshore bunkering service in South African waters got underway in Algoa Bay with Aegean Marine Petroleum Network deploying their bunkering vessel MT LEFKAS to Port Elizabeth, as well as registering the tanker which now flies the South African flag. The ship-to-ship transfers take place in Algoa Bay where relatively deepwater bunkering is possible. The firm is supplying 380 centistoke (cST), intermediate fuel oil (IFO) and marine gas oil (MGO).
A full range of ships chandling and stevedoring as well as other support services is available in Port Elizabeth. The port houses a yacht club and marina as well as a NSRI base.
Looking ahead it is difficult to say what the future has in store for Port Elizabeth. The container terminal has steadily lost volume to nearby Ngqura and within a couple of years it will have lost the manganese ore and liquid bulk petroleum products as these also transfer to Ngqura. This will leave Port Elizabeth facing the future with breakbulk, including Ro-Ro motor vehicle traffic and a limited number of container movements as the only commodities commercially available, along with fishing. As more fruit is carried in containers this will also diminish the volume of reefer trade done at this port.
Plans have been announced to develop a section of the port for recreational use via a waterfront development. There are also futuristic proposals for an offshore aquaculture development that could further change the nature of South Africa’s only port city to carry the prefix of Port in its name.
Interestingly a Port Infrastructure Master Plan of just some years ago made provision for extending Port Elizabeth harbour with a new quay to the east of and adjacent to the No.1 or Charl Malan Quay. It now appears highly unlikely that such a development will take place without some other major catalyst being involved.