The Port of Durban and the Richards Bay port in South Africa is suffering from a major disruption after days of civic unrest in the country. The national freight rail line has also been affected in the violence, choking the supply chain operations in the country, and the rest of Africa.
The epicenter of the violence is KwaZulu-Natal province, which houses Durban. It started in the last week, after the country’s former president, Jacob Zuma was jailed. The violence however, escalated in widespread destruction and public looting around the country in several other provinces.
The Port of Durban is home to one of the busiest shipping terminals in the continent of Africa, and forms a hub for exports, which includes agricultural commodities and imports like petroleum and crude oil products. While Richards Bay houses a major coal export terminal.
The country’s state logistics company, Transnet, which oversees the operations of the country’s ports and terminals declared a force majeure. Announcing the suspension of terminal operations in the Port of Durban and Richards Bay, on 12th July, 2021. The company, in a statement said that the services in the Port of Durban and Richards Bay were impacted “as the entire supply chain is closed” which includes roads in-and-out of the port.
The port health services at the Durban port has also been closed, preventing vessels from berthing, owing to the fact that COVID-19 testing could not be carried out in the port. Said the South African Association of Freight Forwarders, to Reuters. “This situation is exacerbated by launch crews also not being available” they mentioned.
There have been reports of shopping malls being looted and set on fire, warehouses and shipping containers from the ports being looted, and many major roads being blocked. At least 72 people have been killed, as of July 12th, reports the Wall Street Journal, while more than 400 people were arrested by the South African security forces, reports the Associated Press
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Shipping giant Maersk has shut down it’s depots, warehouses and cold stores in the affected regions, while Shell and BP South African Petroleum Refineries too, declared force majeure, suspending it’s operations, which accounts for more than 35% of South Africa’s refinery capacity.
Meaning of Force Majeure: Allowance to waive certain terms of a legally binding agreement, due to unavoidable circumstances.
A video has been circulated online, which shows shipping containers being vandalized and looted. This indicated Transnet’s facilities being looted. The company however, issued a statement denying any such reports, stating, “We can confirm that the container is not at any of our ports, or at any of Transnet’s facilities”.