Transnet to open inquiry into terminal fires after restoring Richards Bay conveyors

FIVE of seven conveyors at Transnet’s Richards Bay Multi Purpose Terminal have been reopened following a fire that broke out last week, the government-owned freight and logistics company said on Monday evening.

Transnet also disclosed that a fire had started within the last two weeks at Durban’s Grain Export Terminal at the Maydon Wharf precinct.

Investigations are subsequently underway and a board of inquiry is to be established aimed at determining the cause of fires. The group did not discount “operational negligence”. It made no mention of sabotage, however.

Coal deliveries have been disrupted on Transnet Freight Rail’s (TFR’s) coal rail routes throughout the year largely owing to theft of copper overhead cables perpetrated by armed gangs. Transnet has previously described the vandalism as akin to being “under attack”. The private sector is working with the company to improve security.

Earlier in the day, Transnet told Miningmx there had been an impact on coal exports as a result of the incident in Richards Bay which was started on Wednesday last week. It was yet to detail the extent of the disruption.

“No injuries were reported and both ports remain operational. Transnet National Ports Authority has issued Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) with letters of notice for TPT to ensure that all affected areas are safe before any operations can resume,” it said.

“In Richards Bay, significant progress has been made in restoring operations – five of the seven conveyor belts have been fully restored and are back in operation,” it said. “With the remainder of the conveyor belts, the Port has deployed manual handling to ensure continuity of operations.”

Thungela Resources said on Monday that thermal coal production for the year ended December 30 could be as much as 1.2 million tons (Mt) lower than previously forecast owing to disruption on the coal line.

The Johannesburg-listed coal producer, which was created from the demerger of Anglo American’s South African export-focused thermal mines, said annual output was expected to come in at between 14.8Mt to 15.2Mt compared to previous guidance of 15Mt to 16Mt.

The rail interruptions would have a knock-on effect for Thungela as some of its mines “… may become constrained as a result of reaching stockpile capacities from November 2021”. It expected to build additional export inventory stock levels of approximately 1.3Mt during the second half of the year.

“Thungela continues to work together with the South African coal industry and TFR to improve the levels of infrastructure availability and performance,” the company said.