Coal exports drop way below target

[] — COAL shipments through the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) for the six months to end-June show the terminal is running at export levels well below target.

If the trend continues, the RBCT looks set for another dismal year with exports likely to drop below last year’s level of 61.1 million tonnes (mt) – the worst performance in more than a decade.

That’s despite the fact that the terminal as of the beginning of May officially commissioned its R1.2bn phase five expansion, which gives it the capacity to export 91mt of coal annually.

So far this year, the RBCT has shipped 27.96 mt of coal. This is equivalent to an annualised total for 2010 of 55.9mt, although the RBCT website estimates this at 56.2mt.

The initial target for this year’s exports was 65mt. To achieve that, the RBCT must export at a monthly average of 5.4mt throughout calendar 2010.

But the terminal has achieved that target just once this year in March, when it shipped 5.6mt.

A breakdown of statistics indicates the problem seems to lie on the marketing and demand side, and not with shortfalls in deliveries from Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) which was the major problem in 2009.

In fact, the statistics show TFR has made an impressive recovery from the impact of the three-week strike in May, which coincided with a two-week shutdown of the Richards Bay line for planned maintenance.

TFR’s monthly average delivery for the period January to April was 5.54mt, but the RBCT exported only on average 4.85mt/month.

In May, railages dropped to 1.9mt but the terminal still shipped 4.6mt by drawing down stockpiles built up ahead of the closure of the line.

The June figures show a rapid recovery by TFR, in line with Transnet CEO Chris Wells’ stated aim to stick to the 65mt target as far as possible. However, there has been an unexplained fall in export volumes.

TFR boosted railings to 5.2mt during June, but the RBCT exported only 4mt. This allowed stock levels to rise back to nearly 3mt, compared with 2mt at the end of May and 4.6mt at the end of April.