Is the Port of Durban unsafe for ships?

South Africa’s Port of Durban has been put under the spotlight following recent groundings at the harbour entrance.

Groundings have become frequent since September 2014, with two recent ones, that of MV Pacific Quartz which touched the north breakwater and MV ER Elsfleth which touched bottom in early December, further intensifying safety concerns.

The grounding of MV ER Elsfleth raised suspicions that there appears to be a sand bar forming across the harbour entrance, marine insurer company Skuld has said.

The port authorities are investigating the incidents. However, according to Skuld, the most pertinent cause of the groundings that has re-emerged relates to lack of proper dredging of the entrance channel and the removal of silt from the South breakwater.

“The harbour master is expected to publish a report shortly on the issue of dredging as there may have already been a number of previous groundings in the port. As a result of these groundings, the port reduced the under keel clearance in Durban by 30 cm as reported in a previous loss prevention notice dated 30 September 2014,” Skuld said.

Skuld says dredging could be a port safety issue, especially if it is systematic, as could the build-up of silt and cargo residues at berths.

“It will be a question for the facts of each individual case as to whether a port safety issue arose or whether another factor is in play.

“While frequency of an incident alone is not a determining factor, the repeat occurrence of an event linked to the same underlying factual issues may indicate that there is a systemic problem. System failures can mean there is a port safety issue, although again it will be necessary to consider each incident on its own facts,” he added.

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