Transnet declares force majeure on coal export line to Richards Bay

State rail operator Transnet on Friday declared force majeure on its export coal line that connects to Richards Bay, following the derailment of a train carrying coal earlier this week.

On Tuesday morning, a Transnet train carrying export coal heading to Richards Bay derailed near Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal, between the Bloubank and Nhlazatshe stations.

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“Transnet has implemented a force majeure on the Northern Corridor and continues to provide updates to impacted customers on the status of recovery operations,” the state company said in a statement on Friday.

Transnet said work by its recovery teams had been significantly disrupted and delayed, allegedly because of violent and extortion efforts by the Ulundi Business Forum which has been contracted to provide equipment to assist in the derailment recovery.

“The forum was invited to provide a list of all equipment and plant machinery that [it is] able to deploy to site as well as costings… [it] now insists on direct contracts with Transnet over and above what [it has] with industry,” the rail operator said.

The cause of the derailment had not been determined by Friday, but the company earlier in the week said the incident had “taken place against a backdrop of threats and disruptions” to its operations.

A force majeure can be implemented for various reasons, including natural causes such as fire, storms or floods. It can also result from governmental or societal actions including war, invasion, civil unrest and labour strike or even infrastructure failures.

Transnet said the forum had resorted to violence, including assault, blocking access to roads, and the discharging of a firearm.

It said representatives from the South African Police Service (SAPS) were on the scene and said it has activated its security personnel as well as the Public Order Policing unit to the site.

In the interim, the Transnet Freight Rail will divert essential flows such as chemicals to the mainline between Durban and Gauteng to minimise the impact of the derailment.