The unscheduled decommissioning of the marine gas oil (MGO) pipelines in the Port of Cape Town is affecting business in the port and impacting negatively on its reputation as a port that caters for foreign fishing vessels.

“Vessels are cancelling calls to Cape Town due to the lack of bunkering facilities,” says Gunnar Engbers, Ships Agency Director at Trade Ocean, a multinational ships’ agency with branches in Cape Town, Durban, Saldanha Bay, Johannesburg and Walvis Bay.

Engbers explains that the lack of pipeline facilities has primarily affected vessels under 70 m that cannot be supplied by bunker barge. “These include not only the Eastern Tuna Longliner and Squid Jigger fleets, but also the smaller offshore support vessels that call at the port,” he says.

The cost implications associated with this development cannot be underestimated. Engbers confirms that affected vessels are paying a minimum of US$ 45 more per ton for their fuel than a few months ago.

“Whereas fuel supplied by pipeline or barge attracts no additional costs; fuel supplied via road tanker costs about US$ 100 per ton or if supplied via the one privately controlled pipeline bunker point costs US$ 45 per ton,” he says.

According to Engbers the situation is far from ideal and equates to very unreliable fuel supply options. “Supplying fuel via tanker is a logistical nightmare and port authorities remain uncomfortable with some of the safety aspects associated with the practice. In addition the fuel delivered in this way attracts duties that pipeline and barge deliveries do not.”

He adds that vessel operators additionally face the frustration associated with the backlog and delays caused by the lack of suitable facilities to offer bunker services in the port.

Managing Director of Trade Ocean, David Jooste, predicts that the port will see a decline in the number of foreign fishing vessel calls. “There will be a direct loss of revenue to the Transnet National Ports Authority, agents and other third party service providers,” he says adding that this could lead to loss of employment in the sector. “Agencies that handle fishing vessels only will struggle to survive.”

Jooste adds that, while it is difficult to quantify where the lost business will go, it is likely to benefit Port Louis in Mauritius and result in more fuel transfers at sea.

With no prior communication, agents such as Trade Ocean were only informed about the decommissioning of the pipes from bunker traders after the fact and they in turn received the information from Chevron.

“There is talk of the procurement of a barge by Chevron to service the smaller vessels, but this is currently only hearsay information,” says Jooste who warns that without a timeous viable solution to the problem, the port and its service providers will continue to lose business that will be impossible to regain.

“We cannot afford to be apathetic to this loss of business and we are open to working with the industry to find a viable as well as cost-effective solution,” he says.