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Cyberattack Stops Transnet’s Container Operations in Durban

cyberattack impacts Durban's container terminal operations
Durban's container terminals (file photo)

Published Jul 22, 2021 4:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

Days after civil unrest and violence disrupted operations at South Africa’s busiest port, reports are that container operations at Durban have again been brought to halt by a suspected cyberattack against port operator Transnet. South African media report said that nothing is currently moving in or out of the container terminals with trucks backlogged in the streets around the Port of Durban.

“Transnet is currently experiencing a disruption in some of its IT applications, and the source of this problem is being identified,” the company said in a statement released to customers and posted on social media. “Port terminals are operational across the system, with the exception of container terminals, as the NAVIS system on the trucking side has been affected.”

The unconfirmed cyberattack reportedly happened early on July 22 taking down the system that track containers and organizes the movement in and out of the terminal. The news outlet The Witness is quoting a truck driver saying, “vessels and trucks are not being offloaded at the harbor due to a ‘virus in the systems’.” The truckers’ association also confirmed to customers that it does not expect any cargo to move in or out of the terminal until the problem is resolved.

Transnet is however reporting that the Ports Authority continues to operate, but that vessels moving in and out of the ports are being recorded manually.

“Work is underway to reduce downtime to ensure that the impacted systems are up and running again as soon as possible,” according to Transnet’s statement. Other parts of the company’s operations, including the freight line, pipeline, engineering, and property divisions, have not been so far impacted by the outage.

Last week, Durban’s operations were widely impacted by the civil unrest, looting, and violence that hit parts of South Africa after the country’s former president handed himself in to police to begin a jail sentence for being in contempt of court for failing to appear at a corruption hearing. Transnet took the unusual action of declaring a force majeure after reporting that employees were unable to report to work and that trucks, rail lines, and other operations were being disrupted. They denied reports of looting at its facilities.

Operations at Durban resumed at the beginning of this week. Transnet said it would be working to reduce the backlogs primarily at the container terminals. Durban handled approximately 2.5 million TEU in 2020.

Durban has frequently been cited for troubles in its operations. In a May 2021 port index released by the World Bank, Durban was at the bottom of the 351 ports ranked on issues related to efficiency, operations, and infrastructure. Experts cited a lack of investment in the port’s infrastructure and the decline of the rail lines. Transnet reported problems in 2020 maintaining operations as the country worked to control the spread of COVID-19.