Sunday, 14 July 2019 marked the arrival of twenty locomotives at the Port of Durban from Freetown in Sierra Leone. The locomotives, owned by Grindrod Limited (Grindrod), the JSE listed Freight and Financial services company, had been contracted in 2012 to haul Iron Ore from Tonkilili Mine to Pepel Port in Sierra Leone. At the end of 2017 mining operations came to a halt and the counter party defaulted on their lease hire and maintenance payment obligations.
The recovery of the locomotives will allow for the realisation of their value through deployment into new contracts. A further four locomotives recovered at the same time had already been delivered from the same vessel to a client in Matadi, DRC en-route to South Africa.
At the request of the Government of Sierra Leone a further ten locomotives have remained in Sierra Leone while efforts are made to resuscitate iron ore exports from the country. Depending on the success of those efforts these locomotives will either be entered into new long-term contracts there or will be shipped back to South Africa at the end of the year. In the meantime, Grindrod is enjoying competing demands from rail operators in the region for the locomotives and anticipates that the entire recovered fleet will be delivered to clients by the middle of 2020.
The shipment of the locomotives back to South Africa was a complex task, as the Port of Pepel is not deep enough to receive the large vessel required for the shipment and there is no railway line from Pepel to Freetown. All 24 locomotives were railed some 75 km’s to a transhipment facility established close to the town of Lunsar, where the body of each locomotive, weighing 72 tonnes, was lifted off their bogies by a mobile crane contracted from the neighbouring country of Guinea and loaded on to specialised trucks. From there they were transported indirectly, avoiding weak bridges and other obstacles for 200km on a mixture of tar and dirt roads, to Freetown Port where the locomotives were re-assembled with their bogies and subsequently loaded on a heavy lift project vessel for shipment to Matadi and Durban.
“What seemed an impossible task when first contemplated has been achieved by our team, from our landing at Lungi Airport in Freetown on the 26th of March 2019, to securing the Sierra Leonean Government’s support, contracting the logistical expertise and assets from around West Africa and safely executing a complex landside operation to delivery by sea to Durban only four months later is really remarkable”, said Andrew Thomas, CEO Grindrod Rail.
Said Andrew Waller, CEO Grindrod Limited: “We are very pleased to have successfully recovered these assets and are in the advanced stage of negotiations to contract the locomotives out to new operators. Thank you to the Grindrod team for their efforts in the negotiations as well as the careful planning and logistics required for the successful shipment.”