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The largest coal-exporting terminal in South Africa, the world’s fifth-largest coal exporter, saw coal export volumes drop by 6.2% year over year in 2023 to the lowest level since 1992, as rail challenges choked transportation.
The Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT), South Africa’s largest, shipped 47.2 million tons of coal in 2023, chief executive Alan Waller told reporters in a media briefing.
The decline in coal exports to more than a three-decade low was the result of continued rail transportation challenges at state railways operator Transnet SOC Ltd, which struggled to ship coal due to a shortage of locomotives and thefts and vandalism on the infrastructure.
Lower coal demand in Europe last year also led to a slump in RBCT’s shipments to the continent, which plunged by 57% year over year.
The biggest export destination of the coal shipped out of the Richards Bay Coal Terminal was India, which took around 19.7 million tons of coal from the export terminal last year.
Transnet aimed to deliver 60 million tons of coal to the export terminal in 2023, but fell short of the target.
The Richards Bay Coal Terminal has set a tentative target to export 50 million tons of coal in 2024.
The situation with coal transportation by railway was complicated earlier this month after two trains collided nearly two weeks ago and Transnet had to work to clear the railway line to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal.
Thungela Resources, a large coal miner, told Reuters on January 16 that it didn’t expect the incident to significantly impact its operations.
“The collision is expected to have limited impact on our operations. We are in regular contact with Transnet and expect an update on when the services will be reinstated in due course,” Thungela said in an emailed response to Reuters.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com