When ports that serve as gateways into East Africa become clogged up, importing is a tricky – and very lengthy – business.
Many of our customers in the region are experiencing long delays in their imports of CCA. This is a seasonal problem exacerbated by circumstances at Dar Es Salaam port, our shipping company Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) has said, in answer to queries.
In South Africa, we have a choice of ports from which to export. In East Africa, the only gateway is Dar Es Salaam. The port is badly congested every year during this period. The problem is exacerbated by ongoing rehabilitation to the port, which is being deepened and its mouth widened, and ongoing delays in clearing its transit cargo, MSC said.
Last year at this time, shipping lines were waiting for over a week outside the port, before they could dock. This year, in response to the seasonal congestion, MSC suddenly introduced a different strategy: that of taking its containers to Mombasa, where there is less congestion and from which a feeder vessel takes the shipments to Dar Es Salaam.
“We understand that our customers are dealing with unpredictable markets, but the only way around the problem is careful and continuous planning.”
The advantage of this approach is that it enables the MSC vessel to return to South Africa for more cargo, keeping ships moving. The problem is that the feeder vessels only leave Mombasa every few weeks, which is causing additional delays.
“The shipping line’s current advertised sailing time is 18-24 days, while in reality, it is over 50 days,” Thinus said.
MSC remains the best company for Dolphin Bay to use, as it is the only company sailing directly from South Africa to East Africa. Others first sail to the United Arab Emirates, then back to Mombasa, and their schedules are even longer than that of MSC.
“Previously, we were advising our clients to plan for an eight-week cycle, but currently, we’re working on 12 weeks,” he said.
“We understand that our customers are dealing with unpredictable markets, but we are advising them that the only way around the shipping delays is careful and continuous planning.
“We are in constant communication with our customers, to assess their requirements for stock. What makes it difficult is that, unbeknown to the customer or us, there can be a sudden increase in market activity, making planning very challenging. We are well-equipped for these challenges and are trying to accommodate these fluctuations.
“We advise our customers to plan three months ahead, being as careful as possible regarding the accuracy of your forecasts – and put pressure on your forwarding and clearing agents.
“Also, keep sufficient buffer stock to avoid shortages.
“Be aware of what’s happening in your port. We advise you to talk to your forwarding and clearing agent, and to ensure that you get answers regarding the long lead times,” said Thinus.
“The congestion is a result of rising demand. We’ve seen growth, as have our clients. As a collective, we and many other companies have started putting pressure on the supply line, in the hope of improved infrastructure and services.”