Ngqura steadies the ship

Cindy Preller

IN a first for Africa, the Port of Ngqura is investing R140-million in an automated mooring system to stabilise massive container ships in gale-force winds.

Dubbed the transshipment hub of the continent, the harbour will reduce its docking time with the new mooring system, which is able to resist wind speeds of over 70km/h.

The system is expected to be completed by April 2015 and will be able to secure vessels with a cargo capacity of up to 13000 TEU (twenty- foot equivalent units) containers in severe weather conditions, which often cause operational downtime and safety concerns at the harbour.

The mooring system, which will be supplied by the global engineering group Cavotec, will consist of 26 units able to resist a combined wind load of 540 tonnes and will be installed in the D100 container berth at the harbour. The berth was identified as the most severely affected by weather conditions. Phase 2 will be rolled out to an additional three berths at the container terminal.

Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) chief harbour master Captain Rufus Lekala said the R140-million investment was necessary because as the “fastest growing port in the world and Africa, we cannot afford to sleep”.

Ngqura has grown from handling 70000 TEUs in 2009 to handling 671191 TEUs in 2012 and is widely regarded as one of the harbours with the fastest growing container terminal in the world. So far 24 break bulk vessels have called at the port this year.

“By installing the automated mooring system we safeguard our niche container market. We are investing in the best technology in the world, which is being used in 56 other container terminals around the world,” Lekala said.

He said a lot of research went into investing in the system in order to avoid down time, which was experienced with wind speeds of over 70km/h and long waves, especially in the winter months.

In these conditions, offloading of the cargo with cranes is normally halted due to safety reasons and the ships are piloted out of the harbour.

Ngqura port engineer Gerrit du Plessis said the system would reduce the time it took to moor a ship with traditional mooring lines from up to 90 minutes to about 30 seconds and reduce the labour force from eight people to one.

“He or she will simply press a button on the quay side after which a vacuum system locks onto the ship. You can do whatever you want to the ship after that, the vessel will stick to the quay,” Du Plessis said.

Cavotec would undertake training and skills transfer workshops at a Port Elizabeth-based mechanical and electrical company, to undertake repairs and maintenance beyond the first year of operations in 2015, he said.

Cavotec chief executive Ottonel Popesco said Ngqura’s order was the single largest order for the mooring system to date.

“The scale and location of this order represents a tremendous opportunity for our group. It also further demonstrates that the technology continues to gain traction in the market,” Popesco said.

The company will tailor-make the mooring technology to the specifications of the Ngqura terminal.

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