Transport operator Transnet has switched to manually processing container shipments to and from Durban after a cyber-attack knocked its computer systems out of action.

The delays and confusion surrounding the incident at the port, which handles 60% of the nation’s shipments, are causing backlogs of international and domestic movement of goods to build up.

The latest disruption comes just a week after internal transport was held up by roadblocks and riots in response to the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma.

State-owned Transnet said it has identified the source of the problem with its computer systems and is working to minimise the impact.

While auto shipments slowed, exports of citrus fruits from South Africa are said to have initially halted. But Transnet is reported to be prioritising dispatch of refrigerated (reefer) containers, which carry time-sensitive cargo, from Durban because the citrus season is nearing its peak.

Concerning the switch to paper systems, David Watts, a consultant at the South African Association of Freight Forwarders, said: “You can imagine instead of making a telephone call you are running around to the corner with a piece of paper.

“It’s affecting us in a huge way because at the moment nothing much is moving. If the situation does not improve, over a lengthy period, it could be extremely disastrous,” he was quoted as saying by the American Journal of Transportation.

South Africa’s Road Freight Association (RFA) was “dismayed and gravely concerned” about the cyber-attack with CEO Gavin Kelly saying the incident had created “massive delays and unreliability of the movement of goods across all modes of transport.” 

Road freight is bearing the brunt of the disruption “The gates to ports are closed which means no trucks are moving in either direction. This has immediate effect: the queues will get a lot longer, deliveries will be delayed and congestion will increase,” he was quoted as saying in local media.

Transnet, whose website remains offline, said its rail, pipeline and engineering units are working as normal.

The government is investigating whether the cyber-attack is linked to the unrest, though a spokesman said: “Currently we are treating it as an unrelated event.”


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