THE Road Freight Association (RFA) has voiced its dismay and grave concern at the recent cyber-attack on Transnet which caused crippling delays and disruptions to the movement of goods across all modes of transport – with road freight bearing the brunt of the impact.
Transnet advised its customers on 22 July that it was “experiencing a problem with some of its IT applications, and we have had to shut them down to identify the source of the problem”.
The logistics parastatal subsequently announced that it had “identified the source of disruption to its IT systems,” but declined to provide further details on the nature of the hack or its extent.
Then on Monday, 26 July, Transnet Port Terminals (TPT), the division that operates the country’s container terminals, declared force majeure, a contractual clause aimed at limiting its liability for services delivery failures and customer losses resulting from the hack.
The force majeure was meant to run until Friday, but Transnet said yesterday that it was expected to be lifted “soon”.
It added that while a number of shipping containers were still being loaded manually due to the unavailability of the Navis cargo tracking software and other systems, it had made “significant progress” towards restoring all affected IT applications. It was also able to pay wages due on Tuesday.
But according to RFA Chief Executive Officer Gavin Kelly, irreparable damage may already have been done to the reputation of South African ports.
He said the manual processes used in an attempt to work around the hacked software had created numerous problems of their own for operations.
“Road freight operators already have a huge backlog resulting from [the recent] civil unrest. The delays at the port will further exacerbate the problem. Deliveries will become unreliable and unpredictable – adding further inefficiencies into the supply chain.”
This was certainly the case for Johannesburg-based Sebenza Freight Services, whose Operations Manager Tanja Steenkamp said they could not move any containers into or out of ports.
“Our clients are very upset, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” she told City Press.
The company provides air, sea and road freight; marine insurance; customs clearing; and warehousing services. It had also been unable to track containers because Transnet’s telephone lines and website were down.
Kelly said these and numerous other cases showed that the system needed to be adapted to ensure it cannot happen in future.
He warned of grave short- and long-term implications for South Africa which had already experienced a marked deterioration of its ports over the past five years. He cited a World Bank report issued earlier this year that listed the Port of Durban as one of the three worst in the world out of 351 ports assessed.
“The effects of the cyber-attack are going to result in further reputational damage to South Africa. This further threatens our country’s status as the ‘Gateway to Africa’ for the import and export of goods.”
“If this matter is not addressed urgently, the non-functioning of our ports will be yet another reason why international traders and shippers will choose other ports in Africa through which to move our goods,” Kelly said.