Massive sea ports upgrade in South Africa

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Transnet National Ports Authority’s multimillion dollar upgrades to sea ports upgrade in South Africa especially Port of Port Elizabeth represent the first realisation of government’s Operation Phakisa and a positive step towards a thriving boat building and marine maintenance industry for the city.

With the ocean economy a critical driving force of Operation Phakisa, TNPA Senior Project Manager Pieter-Ben van Rhijn said the R186-million upgrades to the port’s lead-in jetties and boat maintenance repair areas had not only created jobs and injected a substantial local spend, but also initiated a long-term boost for the Bay’s economy.

“Design and construction of the two-phase project began in January last year and the work will continue until 2017. The first phase – a modernised boat maintenance repair area with a 90-ton boat hoist – is on track for operational commissioning in June 2016. The second – a project that involves the complete refurbishment of the 1200-ton lead-in jetties – will be ready by mid-2017,” said Van Rhijn.

“The upgrade will also prove to be a huge asset to the ever growing fishing industry in the region. Once completed, it will provide a dry platform facility for 10 boats at a time for repairs and maintenance as well as a docking bay.

“Strategically, the modernisation of the Port of PE’s facilities fits in with the Integrated Port Management System recently launched at all TNPA ports,” Van Rhijn said. “Smarter, cleaner ports that electronically consolidate data for our customers and streamline logistics, port operations and security are all part of our market demand strategy.”

Van Rhijn said 80 direct jobs had been created through the project, along with a much greater number of indirect employment opportunities, and that local spend would amount to approximately R80-million by the end of the project.

He applauded lead contractor Haw & Inglis and local consulting engineers AfriCoast for their innovative engineering designs and exceptionally smooth running of the project.

“The original structures for the lead-in jetties were laid down in the late 1800s, so we had to obtain a permit for the refurbishment from the Eastern Cape Heritage Resources Authority. It’s only from the 1940s that people have been able to take vessels out of the water via the 1200-ton cradle slipway system – and then only a maximum of two vessels at a time.”

Phase 1 of the project has entailed the upgrade of a 73-year old, 40-ton slipway to a 90-ton boat hoist quay. Haw & Inglis site agent Marius Matthee said the improvement had increased the harbour footprint by 1910m2.

“The veteran jetties were condemned in 2012, due to excessive corrosion. Demolition was slow at first, but once the first bay had been exposed plans were put in place to continue quickly and safely. The services of a local diving company have been employed throughout the project to sweep the seabed clear of any debris that may cause obstructions and delays,” Matthee said.

“The project raised interesting civil and structural aspects from the start,” said AfriCoast consulting engineer JP Mulder. “Structurally, we had to fill in the existing slipway and create a retaining wall. The many varying levels and existing structures on the quay were engineered to ensure a smooth slope with adequate stormwater run-off.

“Another challenge was the slabs and their configuration under high loads – and in tying in the jetty with new levels. Massive concrete slabs have been designed to resist the extraordinary weight of the new 90-ton hoist plus the boats – approximately eight times the load that public motorways have to carry. Layer works also had to be upgraded with engineered layers to withstand the extreme pressure.”

The new structure, built three metres proud of the low water mark, will rest on 60 piles driven by specialist geotechnical contractor Franki Africa.

“The modernised lead-in jetties will be used primarily as a docking area for the fishing industry. In addition to creating additional berthing space, we are also looking into the possibility of a dedicated wet repairs facility,” said Van Rhijn.

Additional contributions to TNPA’s vision of a ‘smart port’ include AfriCoast’s ground-breaking introduction of an easily-accessed service duct and accurate water usage monitoring system, to maximise the practicality of the facility.

“We designed and constructed a 700mm reinforced concrete trench, running the entire 80m length of the quay for easy access, to house an entirely new water and fire reticulation system, potable water taps and the electrical services that docked boats require,” said AfriCoast project engineer Gerrie van de Merwe.

In possibly the first introduction of its kind, AfriCoast also facilitated the design of an electronically metered system to monitor the boats’ usage of precious potable water reserves. The system will help TNPA to curb the water wastage that had been a challenge in the past.

“TNPA is excited about this refurbishment project, its investment in our blue economy and the potential benefit it will bring to the community,” Van Rhijn said. “We view the two ports of PE and Ngqura as working in partnership and our vision is for the Port of PE’s to be a ‘people’s port’ – open for the community to visit and enjoy.

“Government’s recent grant of a section 79 agreement allows TNPA to provide a portion of land for commercial development. We are in talks with TAG Yachts, of St Francis Bay, to expand their boat building operations to the port of Port Elizabeth. The establishment of a boat building and repair industry and biocomposites hub will create many local employment opportunities.

“Concept studies on the Marina and Maritime Commercial Development in the port are also in progress and a major milestone was achieved when the project was successfully gate-reviewed, allowing it to move into the next lifecycle phase. This we are exploring in collaboration with the Mandela Bay Development Agency’s proposed Baakens River Valley and waterfront development plans.”

Port Elizabeth has been an important port on the South African east coast since the arrival of the first British settlers in 1820. Today it is a bustling multi-cargo port on the western perimeter of Algoa Bay.


AfriCoast Consulting Engineers is one of Africa’s leading independent, multi-disciplinary engineering consultancy firms. Headquartered in Nelson Mandela Bay, the firm specialises in the design and implementation of all major engineering disciplines: civil and electrical engineering, water, sanitation, roads, transportation (port, road and rail), storm water, structural engineering (buildings, bridges, water retaining structures and wind turbine bases), environmental management and infrastructure management in South Africa.

Since its inception in 1998, AfriCoast Consulting Engineers has delivered projects collectively worth R300-billion for its client base. AfriCoast Consulting Engineers provides solutions that are responsive, innovative, and strategically planned and implemented against world-class standards. The firm is a member of the Consulting Engineers South Africa Association (CESA) and the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC). AfriCoast Engineers is an ISO 9001:2008 registered company.