Prompt coal availability from South Africa has been constrained by limited rail deliveries to the export port, causing some suppliers to withhold offers, market participants said today.
Just 1.1mn t/week of coal was railed to the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) in December and only 860,000t in the week to 1 February, down from an average of 1.5mn t/week in September-November.
RBCT exports averaged just 730,000 t/week in January, down from 1.5mn t/week a year earlier. Stocks at RBCT are just 2.9mn t, meaning improved rail supply will be key to ramping up exports in the short term.
"[Rail operator] Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) is cancelling many trains," said one supplier, who pointed to delays around the town of Ermelo. He said the main reason for the cancellations was train availability.
"The industry has lost over 750,000t of railings in the last 10 days," a second trader said, who expects the problems to continue.
Two bulk carriers were berthed at RBCT this afternoon, with 10 ships waiting outside the port, ship-tracking data show.
Market participants said the rail disruption was causing a scarcity of offers for prompt loading. But Richards Bay fob prices have actually declined in recent days. Argus' NAR 6,000 kcal/kg assessment was $81.17/t yesterday, down from an average of $87.76/t last week.
The railing issues are not thought to be linked to TFR's annual maintenance on 16-25 January.
Transnet Ports on 2 February issued a force majeure notice because of "strong winds and heavy rains experienced from Tropical Storm Eloise". The rain has slowed vessel loading, impacted vessel berthing and flooded rail lines and stockpiles, the notice said.
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