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Supply Lines: Shelter in a storm

Supply Lines
Bloomberg

As Covid-19 restrictions wreak havoc on the world's major ports by exposing inefficiencies and lengthening delays, trade at sub-Saharan Africa's biggest container hub is functioning well after a strict lockdown gave it room to test and institute new systems.

A lull in activity amid the curbs meant authorities at the Port of Durban on South Africa's east coast was able to try new ideas and "had an appetite to take little bits of failure but quickly recover because there wasn't a lot of pressure," said Moshe Motlohi, its general manager.

The port is now able to handle 3,185 trucks every 24 hours, almost double the volume over the same period last year, when lines of carriers snaked back more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) waiting to be serviced at the height of the bottlenecks.

That's largely due to work started in November 2019 by the Port of Durban Decongestion Task Team, which sought to relieve traffic pressure and congestion at its main precinct and surrounding networks. The catchment area serviced by the port accounts for 60% of South Africa's gross domestic product and handles most shipments on behalf of the country's landlocked neighbors such as the kingdom of Lesotho.

The team identified and started work in eight areas. Motlohi said these included:

  • synchronizing local business practices with the port's 24-7 operations
  • setting up off-dock facilities outside of the port for trucks
  • optimizing teams and equipment
  • improving the supply of trains that carry mineral ores
  • communicating with other ports in the region that ships also call on

Overall freight volumes from April to the end of October fell 16% from a year earlier due to the lockdown restrictions. That's despite a virus-driven surge in citrus exports from South Africa, the world's largest exporter of the fruits after Spain.

Prinesha Naidoo in Johannesburg

Charted Territory

Deutsche Lufthansa is preparing its depleted fleet of aircraft for the gargantuan task of transporting the vaccines meant to end the global pandemic. One of the world's biggest cargo carriers began planning in April how to distribute the shots and a 20-member task force is at work devising how to fit more of the crucial payload onto the airline's 15 Boeing Co. 777 and MD-11 freighters.

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