Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) and Transnet have failed to reach an agreement that would permit more access for black- owned coal mining companies wishing to use the export facility. Transnet is now contemplating the construction of a separate coal export terminal at the port.

Nevertheless, there are serious doubts as to whether this would be feasible, given that RBCT is currently operating at just 75% of engineered capacity, because Transnet lacks the capability of delivering enough coal. The highly public pronouncement is thereby being seen as a way of pressuring RBCT into making more concessions to smaller black coal exporters.

To date,Transnet CEO, Brian Molefe, has been unable to provide any details on the exact size or cost of the new terminal, which he claims is still at the planning stage, with engineering studies due to be completed by the middle of 2014.

At present, RBCT can handle 91mt (million tonnes) of coal annually, but last year handled just 68.3mt last year. The Transnet rail line into the terminal can carry up to 71mt, with a $3.24 billion investment programme aiming to raise this to 97.5mt.

The impasse is blamed on existing major users of RBCT, who have already surrendered capacity at the terminal to smaller mining companies, but are declining to go any further. Nevertheless, alternative outlets are being sought, hence the new Richards’ Bay initiative.