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South Africa Coal Exports Surge as Rail Operations Improve

South Africa’s Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) is set to report an 11% increase in coal exports in the first half of this year, buoyed by enhancements in Transnet’s railway services. Coal industry research stalwart OPIS/McCloskey predicts RBCT’s shipments will reach 26.05 million tonnes from January to June, up from 23.56 million tonnes in the same period last year. This rebound places annual projections at 52 million tonnes, a significant recovery from last year’s 30-year low of 47 million tonnes, yet still below the average 70 million tonnes recorded from 2013 to 2020 when rail operations were at full capacity.

Despite the optimistic outlook, exporters face challenges in July, with anticipated exports dropping to 3.8 million tonnes due to a 10-day rail maintenance shutdown. This reduction stems from necessary infrastructure upkeep, during which time exporters will rely heavily on reduced stockpiles, currently at 2.21 million tonnes—significantly lower than the usual 4-5 million tonnes maintained before such maintenance periods.

Over a recent weekend, Transnet experienced a temporary disruption in rail service due to a train failure and track issues, which briefly halted coal shipments. However, services were restored by the afternoon, minimizing long-term impact. This incident followed a challenging month where exports fell by 13% due to various disruptions including train derailments, power outages, and community unrest.

Despite these hurdles, Transnet’s rail operations have shown resilience and recovery, crucial for maintaining coal supply chains to key international markets. India remains the primary recipient of RBCT’s exports, taking in 9.49 million tonnes, or 44% of total exports. Other major importers include South Korea, Vietnam, and Pakistan, highlighting the global dependence on South Africa’s coal resources.

Source: OPIS/McCloskey