Transnet spends R98m to lure ships back to Cape Town
At the moment, the port ‘is like Cape Town Airport without airplanes’
The most expensive gate in the country is finally being fixed. Transnet on Thursday announced plans to spend R98m replacing a broken “caisson” at Cape Town harbour’s massive ship repair dry dock, which has been broken since 2016.
The caisson is a large steel gate used to subdivide the 74-year-old dry dock, allowing two or more ships to be repaired simultaneously.
Problems with the dry dock have caused significant delays and loss of revenue over the past few years for Transnet and private companies that use the port.
Local industry sources say many ships no longer use Cape Town’s once-vaunted facilities.
In December 2016, an offshore supply vessel was damaged when the Sturrock dry dock failed. The incident was captured on video and has attracted 160,900 views on YouTube.
However, Transnet says a long-awaited refurbishment is now well on track as part of a massive new investment in South African port infrastructure.
The caisson would double productivity at the Sturrock dock, the company said.
“The new caisson forms part of a multimillion-rand overhaul taking place at the port’s ship repair facilities under South Africa’s Operation Phakisa [economic development] programme, through which shipbuilding and ship repair have been identified as a strategic competence for the port,” a statement said.
Initial work on the new caisson – a mobile floating variety that allows it to be placed at the centre of the dry dock, creating two separate compartments – had faced some challenges, hence the project delay.
“The floating caisson was not sinking sufficiently at high tide. This compelled the naval architect to go back to the drawing board.
“There were also minor leaks between the floating caisson steel structure and the sealing timber due to uneven steel structure surfaces. This was resolved by inserting a special sealant that is compatible with seawater,” Transnet said.
The parastatal is also replacing corroded piping and repairing the Robinson dry dock as well as the all-important synchrolift, used to lift ships out of the water.
A ship repair source said he remained sceptical of Transnet’s investment promises. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said, adding current repair work amounted to little more than “patch-up jobs”. “There is huge frustration. It is like Cape Town airport with no airplanes – essentially that is what is going on at the port,” he said.