Photo Karel Prinsloo Bloomberg via Getty Images

Photo: Karel Prinsloo Bloomberg via Getty Images

Transnet’s controversial purchase of seven port cranes from a Chinese company has been described as “the most expensive crane sale of its type ever recorded” by an industry expert.

Amabhungane and Scorpio reported on Monday that an agreement signed between Chinese crane manufacturer, Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries (ZPMC) and a Gupta-linked entity in Dubai called JJ Trading (JJT) saw Transnet purchase the cranes for a whopping R650 million.

The price of the cranes, which were worth no more than R570 million, was allegedly inflated by ZPMC to make room for “commissions and fees”.  The implication however, is that ZPMC paid bribes to the Guptas, who somehow influenced Transnet to give it the contract.

A crane expert, who did not want to be named, told amaBhungane and Scorpio that this was “the most expensive crane sale of its type ever recorded”.

Why these cranes?

As the controversy swirls and all parties deny any wrong doing crane experts continue to question why Transnet opted to purchase the expensive “tandem lift” cranes.

Brian Molefe, then-Transnet CEO, told amaBhungane and Scorpio that Transnet needed to buy cranes as many shipping companies had complained about the condition of the state-owned entity’s cranes.

The tandem-lift cranes are not used by anyone outside of China (except for a port in Dubai) according to a report by World Cargo News and this was for a good reason the crane expert told amaBhungane and Scorpio.

“Why did Transnet need the most expensive type of crane ZPMC makes when the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, which are premier high efficiency ports, don’t use it? Everyone knows they don’t work that well.”

The expert said that port logistics crews often battled to manage the double lift, so the efficiencies were seldom realised.

Improving operational efficiency

But, last week, Molefe told amaBhungane and Scorpio: “We decided on the tandem-lift cranes of that size because the type of vessels that were calling into Durban were quite wide, and our cranes could not reach to the other side of the vessels. These new cranes can, and they can take two containers at a time instead of one.”

He said this would double the cranes’ efficiency. The expert once again disagreed with these claims “Most cranes can do the double container lifts.” The tandem lift capability was not necessary for this.”