Sabotage brings coal export rail to grinding halt forcing Transnet to issue force majeure

THE Richards Bay coal line was inoperable after an act described by its owner, Transnet, as “economic sabotage” led to the back-end of a 200-wagon train derailing on December 20.

BusinessLive, citing a statement by Transnet, said one of the rails on the route had been cut with a blowtorch just outside Richards Bay where the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) is located. Coal is railed, mostly from Mpumalanga province, to RBCT where it is then stockpiled ahead of export to markets including India, Pakistan and Thailand.

“This is a first and it is a frightening development,” Transnet spokesperson Mike Asefowitz, told BusinessLive. “We are hoping to re-open one line tomorrow, but we have had to declare a force majeure with the coal export parties,” he said.

A 200-strong wagon, carrying approximately 16,600 tonnes of coal to the export terminal, approached the rupture just outside Richards Bay early on Thursday morning, said BusinessLive. The locomotive and most of the wagons passed the rupture without incident, but 51 of the wagons towards the back of the train derailed and 49 of these fell on their side, spilling coal and rendering both lines inoperable, it added.

Fortunately, both the locomotive driver and his assistant were not injured in the incident, the publication said.

RBCT exported a record 76.47 million tons (Mt) of coal during 2017 beating the previous record of 75.38Mt exported in 2015, and said in January that it was budgeting for another record year during 2018 on the back of soaring export coal prices.