Second Force Majeure at South African Ports Following Cyberattack

Transnet file image

Published Jul 27, 2021 8:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

South Africa has declared a second force majeure at its port terminal operations in a month, following a cyberattack that crippled Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) ICT systems and forced the port operator to resort to manual systems.

After frantic and unsuccessful efforts to restore its systems, TPT has owned up to experiencing an act of cyberattack, security intrusion and sabotage. It has declared a force majeure to absolves itself from any liability for not being able to provide services to ports users.

“This serves as notice of declaration of force majeure event, which occurred on 22nd July 2021 and continues to persist, when Transnet, including TPT, experienced an act of cyber-attack, security intrusion and sabotage which resulted in disruption of TPT normal processes and functions or the destruction or damage of equipment or information,” said TPT chief executive Velile Dube in a letter to clients.

He added that investigators are currently determining the exact source of the cause of the compromise and the extent of the ICT data security breach/sabotage.

Following the cyberattack, most of the operations in the ports of Durban, Ngqura, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town have grounded to a halt, with concerns mounting that even Transnet’s 55,000 employees will not be paid salaries due to the disruption.

On Tuesday, Transnet’s website and various divisions were still offline for the seventh day running.

According to Dube, TPT has put mitigation measures in place to ensure operations at the container terminals are still running, albeit slower than expected. Among the measures is the use of manual systems in the loading and discharge of containers. The cyberattack has created massive losses for TPT, which has been unable to charge storage fees since July 22 and will continue to grant waivers until normal service is restored.

“TPT has instituted its business continuity plans and has dedicated teams who are planning the business recovery together in order to facilitate a smooth running terminal as soon as possible,” added Dube.

This is the second force majeure TPT has declared in a month. Widespread violence broke out in South Africa a fortnight ago after the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma, prompting the country to declare force majeure on port operations. 

The cyberattack on TPT comes even as South Africa ports remain under global microscope due to poor infrastructure and increasing inefficiencies, obstacles that have direct impact on employment generation, poverty reduction and economic growth in the country.

In its ‘Container Port Performance Index 2020, A Comparable Assessment of Container Port Performance’ report released in May, the World Bank placed the performance of South Africa’s Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Ngqura ports in the bottom five out of a list of 351 global ports.