South Africa has been on lockdown for COVID-19 since 27th of March 2020 and recently been extended from the 16th of April 2020 to the 30th of April 2020.
From the time the first case of COVID-19 was announced in South Africa on the 5th of March 2020, there have been several changes in the regulations governing the movement of commercial cargo in SA via the ports.
Many importers of goods have expressed concern about the impact of reduced capacity at the country’s ports.
The country’s main ports continue to operate but berths at Durban and Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and the deep water Port of Ngqura in the Eastern Cape have been reduced while Richards Bay and East London have been closed since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.
This means that all essential cargo as defined by the government in the wake of the Coronavirus will be prioritized while non-essential shipments are being discouraged during this period. Shipping lines have to produce mandatory import evacuation plans prior to berthing in a bid to maintain fluidity of the system during the lockdown.
Only below goods classified as essential are allowed to be released to receivers or allowed to be exported:
- food & animal food
- cleaning & hygiene products
- fuel, including coal and gas
- agricultural cargo
It’s also been highlighted that some logistics companies will not be able to receive containers for delivery as they have closed or reduced operations due to the lockdown. “In this case, it is the responsibility of the shipping line/freight forwarder to move these containers to a depot or bonded warehouse within the free period.”
Maersk, the global container ship operator, has communicated a price reduction and free time extension of up to 15 days (up from five days) for affected importers. The company is also reducing rail cancellation and redirection fees by 50% in addition to other cost reductions for cargo moving on overstay to depot facilities.
Freight forwarding companies have expressed concern around the costs of extended storage in the event they are unable to collect and dispatch goods to importers around the country quickly enough.
Ships currently en route to South Africa have to comply with the revised system and importers are warned to take note of potential cost implications caused by additional storage requirements due to the lockdown.
All berthing windows in South Africa have been abolished since the lockdown. Ships are now prioritized depending on the cargo they carry. It means that some ships are only allowed to unload the 'essential' items – remainder of the cargo is left on board or discharged in nearby ports. On the other hand there are also ships that have to drop anchor for up to 2 weeks awaiting further handling.
It therefore goes without saying that the rotation of ships on South Africa is subject to enormous delays and there is currently no absolute guarantee of transit times of goods in/out South Africa.