Mammoth super post panamax Liebherr cranes in full swing!

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It’s been a long road that required lots of effort in a search that took SA Port Operations’ (SAPO) specialists to all four corners of the globe. Now Africa’s biggest and busiest container terminal in Durban is equipped with the most modern Super Post Panamax Liebherr cranes in service anywhere in the world.

Commissioned this week, South African Port Operations’ mammoth Liebherr cranes have swung into operation to meet expectations of improved productivity and efficiency.



Quayside preparation for the new cranes

Costing over R60 million each, there are three of these giant machines ready to take the Durban Container Terminal (DCT) confidently into the future, while helping maintain SAPO’s position as a leading terminal service provider in port operations.

“These new additions, together with the arrival of 60 straddle carriers in 2003 are expected to improve efficiencies and productivity at the terminal where 65% of the country’s container traffic is handled,” says Tau Morwe, Chief Executive of SAPO.

The story of the three cranes goes back to early 2003, when the creation of capacity received top priority in an effort to support government’s export-led economic growth strategy.
At the same time the port could also not afford to wait for another three new IMPSA cranes that are being manufactured for delivery in 2005. The demand on stacking space and ship turnaround time at the container terminal had been increasing on a daily basis, which led to meetings with stakeholders and a worldwide search for the right equipment to improve stacking and create more efficient operations.

Acting with the encouragement and support of customers, who agreed fully that an urgent upgrade of terminal equipment was required, SAPO dispatched teams to various ports around the world with a single mandate – find suitable cranes.

“We left no stone unturned, and our search took us to a number of ports,” says Hamilton Nxumalo, General Manager of Equipment Engineering and Asset Management for SAPO.

Some cranes were too old, others too small. Others had technical deficiencies. The search was narrowed to the port of Rotterdam and later to several German ports.

Eventually, with the assistance of Mediterranean Shipping Company, one of SAPO’s principal clients, the search was narrowed to three practically brand new cranes that were available at the Italian port of La Spezia.
The Italian terminal operator was unable to immediately utilise these giant machines, each capable of loading or discharging the largest container ship in service.

“Our engineers examined them closely and came to the conclusion that these were right for Durban,” says Nxumalo.

Before the deal could be struck a technical team from SAPO traveled to Ireland, where the machines were manufactured, to secure a full warranty extension from the manufacturers. According to Nxumalo, the three Liebherr cranes will become the only such equipment to be found anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

However, purchasing the cranes was the just the start of a substantial R13,2 million civil engineering programme to prepare the home of the new cranes. Various aspects included:

  • the modification and strengthening of the quay wall at berths 108/109 to accommodate the extra height and weight of the cranes, and;

  • new rails along which the crane would run were imbedded in the concrete 28 meters apart, compared to the existing 20 meter width
  • .

    In the month prior to the arrival of the cranes, spares were received, the tender to debrace the cranes on arrival and dispose of the steel bracing was awarded to a BEE company, and substantial logistical arrangements between all parties involved were finalised.

    The cranes arrived in Durban on August 9, on board the MV Tern, to a huge welcome from crowds of onlookers. Immediately on berthing the MV Tern, a special semi-submersible ship carrying the cranes “sank” to quay level and over several days the cranes were de-braced.



    The arrival of the Super Post Panamax Liebherr cranes

    Off-loading the cranes was a methodical 140-hour procedure that required the expertise and equipment to be imported.

    Working in 14-hour shifts over a period of 10 days, the mammoth 1000-ton cranes were jacked up onto stainless steel skids with Teflon-coated surfaces, and then hydraulically jacked off the vessel onto the quayside and their rails.

    Once in place the final modifications and adjustments to suite local working conditions were undertaken.

    “We pulled out all stops to ensure that our investment provided the highest possible returns and I can say that this deal gives us much more than what we required. The purchase will ease the sweating of our assets and will impact tremendously on our ship turnaround times,” says Nxumalo.

    With the cranes positioned at the South Quay alongside berths 108/109 SAPO will fully benefit from the berth and stacking potentials available. Additionally, SAPO can now handle the biggest container ships on these berths at very high crane productivity rates.

    Productivity is expected to improve to 20 gross crane hour moves and more with the introduction of the Liebherr cranes that:

  • operate by means of twin lift spreaders;

  • are able to lift two containers at the same time and;

  • have faster trolley and lifting speeds.





  • Already at work, improving productivity

    When the Liebherr cranes become fully operational it is expected that ship turnaround time will improve by between 10% and 15%. However, it must be borne in mind that cranes are not the only factor that impacts on ship turnaround time.

    The new equipment is not a ‘quick-fix solution.’ The decision to acquire the Liebherr cranes was taken because of the potential benefit they would realise in future years.

    With the commissioning this week of the three Liebherr cranes and a further three IMPSA cranes to follow early in 2005, Durban Container Terminal is ready to take its place as one of the best-equipped and potentially most efficient terminals anywhere.


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