Richards Bay is SA's premier bulk port and the most modern. Built in 1976 for the export of coal, it has since expanded into other bulk and breakbulk cargoes.
In 2004 the port handled 85 million tonnes of cargo. A far cry from the unimpressed view expressed by Commissioner Henry Cloete in 1843, when he surveyed the Mhlatuze estuary and found it to have little or no potential as a future harbour.
Situated at Longitude 32º 02' E and Latitude 28º 48' S, Richards Bay, South Africa's most northernmost and easterly port, is 87 nautical miles (160 km) northeast of Durban and 252 n.miles (465 km) southwest of Maputo.
A dedicated railway line links the port with Mpumalanga Province and Gauteng, designed specifically for and along which most of the country's coal exports are handled. Other rail links connect Richards Bay with Durban in the south and Swaziland and Mpumalanga to the north. There is an adequate road system to Gauteng, Swaziland, Mozambique and Mpumalanga, and an excellent road south to Durban.
The port occupies 2,157 ha of land area and 1,495 ha of water area at present, with the potential of increasing both as required making Richards Bay potentially one of the largest ports worldwide. Richards Bay serves the coalfields of KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga Province as well as timber and granite exporters from as far away as the East Cape and Northern Cape Provinces. Exports are the main activity of the port.
There are currently 21 berths in service including those at the privately operated Richards Bay Coal Terminal but excluding the dredger and tug berths.
The port has extensive rail and conveyor belt systems servicing the berths from nearby factories and plants.
The port of Richards Bay is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The entrance channel is dredged to a permissible draught of 17.5 metres with a -19,5m depth in the entrance channel. Berthing varies between 8m (small craft berth) and 19m (coal berths).
Pilotage is compulsory for all vessels from approximately 3 n.miles southeast of the south breakwater, with pilot transfer performed by helicopter, first introduced in 1995, which can be relieved by a pilot boat if necessary. Navigation is subject to VTS (vessel tracking service system) operated from Port Control offices, which oversees all shipping movements inside port limits. Tug assistance is compulsory. Draught within the port varies according to location.
The largest ship handled in the port so far was the 372,201DWT Brazilian Pride, which had a length of 363.7m, a beam of 63.4m and a maximum draught of 21.8m. The largest shipment of coal was lifted onto the 206,258DWT bulk carrier Ocean Vanguard.
Richards Bay operates a fleet of five tugs owned and operated by the National Ports Authority (NPA). Four of these are identical Voith Schneider type built in 1974 with 43-ton bollard pull - Ibakhu (formerly JH Botha), Indwa (formerly Jan Haywood), Uhuva (ex W Marshall Clarke), and Uzavolo (formerly RH Tarpey). Two of these are for sale. The fifth tug is a 2002-build Voith Schneider type with a bollard pull of about 55 ton named Indlazi. The tugs are maintained to SAMSA class 8 standard and equipped for fire fighting and salvage.
The port also employs a twin-screw diesel work boat/tug of the Tern class named Swift Tern, which has a bollard pull of 19 tons, which also provides pilotage transfers when necessary. This vessel entered service at Richards Bay in September 1998.
An Agusta A109 K2 'HPS' twin-engine 8-seat helicopter operated by Balmoral Maintenance Services provides normal pilotage services. A diesel powered pilot boat named Ivubu is used when the helicopter is unavailable.
Dredging is performed by the NPA on an ongoing basis inside the port and immediately outside the entrance using a trail suction hopper dredger named Ingwenya (formerly HR Moffatt). The port operates a single screw launch named Piet-my-Vrou.
The NSRI has a base at Richards Bay, which includes a deep-sea rescue craft.
Between January and December 2004 Richards Bay handled a total of 1,687 ships, with a gross tonnage of 57,604,799. The port handled a total of 85,688,419 tonnes of cargo, of which 80,872,141t was bulk cargo. Breakbulk cargo came to 4,816,278 tonnes. Exports amounted to 79,641,395 and imports 6,046,233t.
Richards Bay consists of a Dry Bulk Terminal, a Multi Purpose Terminal and the privately operated Coal Terminal. Other private operators within the port include several wood chip export terminals and a bulk liquid terminal.
The Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) handled 65.8 million tonnes of export coal in 2004. Ships are handled at four berths (301-304) each 350m in length with a -19m water depth alongside and a permissible draught of 17.5m. The adjacent 209 chemical berth is 300m long and has a depth alongside of -14m with a permissible draught of 12.5m.
200-wagon trains deliver coal to RBCT on a non-stop daily basis, each payload averaging 16,800 tonnes. A maximum of 6 million tonnes of coal can be stockpiled at the terminal. There are 80km of rail track within the RBCT complex. The terminal has handled in excess of 1 billionth tonnes of coal for export since opening.
A fully equipped diving service is available for ship inspection. Ship repair is undertaken at the quayside (usually the small craft berth), as the port currently has no ship repair facilities. A dry or floating dock is under consideration.
Cruise ships make use of either the small craft berth or one of the normal cargo handling berths depending on the size of the ship. A marina exists next to the tug and dredging berths at the small craft basin. Water sports and recreational facilities are available in the harbour at reserved places.
Bunkering is provided by bunker barge or from the chemical and coal berths - berths 209, 301 and 302.
The outer anchorage is situated approximately 3 - 5 nautical miles south-east of the port entrance. An inner anchorage is available for emergency use only.
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