Afrox recently landed and off-loaded the largest shipment of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) it has ever received by sea, against a background of world-class safety measures.
The 3,000-ton shipment from the Middle East arrived in the Western Cape in a chartered LPG carrier, The Westminster, at the Port of Saldanha and was offloaded at a rate of 130-tons a day, directly into waiting Afrox road tankers for delivery straight to customers and Afrox Gas & Gears.
Afrox undertook a similar exercise in 2006 to address a severe shortage of LPG and at that time the company chartered an LPG carrier from Belgium to bring in 1,600 tons of the gas.
Nathi Mbatha, Afrox Business Manager - Bulk LPG, says although the latest LPG shipment will supply industrial, hospitality, agricultural and domestic customers throughout the Western Cape, as much as 50% of this gas will be sold to customers within a 10 km radius of the Port of Saldanha.
Part of Afrox’s LPG supply forecasting system involves reviewing the availability of product at the refineries from which it sources LPG. In this instance, the local oil refinery was due to conduct planned pre-winter maintenance that would have left users in the Western Cape short of locally supplied LPG.
“The long distances and safety risks associated with transporting LPG by road from other centres prompted the decision to import the LPG directly into the area,” explains Mbatha. “The shipment will effectively support our customers through the typical 20% upswing in demand for LPG that takes place at this time of the year.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to our diversified customer base in the Western Cape, where many domestic users in this region are fully reliant on Afrox Handigas for daily cooking and heating in areas that do not have electricity.
“The success of this exercise, and that of the previous LPG shipment, point to the likelihood of our bringing in about two to three shipments a year from now on,” says Mbatha. “We’ve proved to our partners and Transnet authorities that we can undertake an exercise of this nature to world class safety standards.”
Planning A great deal of planning was conducted by Afrox before the Port of Saldanha authorities agreed to accept the supply ship. A team of engineers was put to work to co-ordinate the technical details, such as risk assessment, design and certification of gas equipment, as well as a comprehensive plan outlining all the procedures that would be followed in offloading LPG from the ship, including safety and emergency procedures.
Safety planning began weeks in advance of the shipment, when Afrox’s engineering and commercial teams opened discussions with the Port of Saldanha’s Harbour Master.
“We were required to demonstrate ahead of time that we have the capacity and capability to handle a delivery of this magnitude,” says Mbatha. “Many meetings took place with the port authorities in the weeks leading up to the shipment, to ensure that the meticulous planning addressed all eventualities. The reason for this high degree of planning focused on the decanting process is that the port has no LPG storage facilities of its own.
“The exercise involved the professional input of about 30 people and its success can be attributed to a great extent to the professionalism and commitment of the port authorities.”
For safety reasons, decanting from the ship to the tankers could only take place during daylight hours. The port’s fire fighting team was present during the 25-day exercise on a 24/7 basis, with an emergency medical team on standby in close proximity to the harbour.
Says Mbatha: “This exercise was categorised as a hazardous operation and was carried out according to the strictest safety measures. Our offload team comprised dedicated load masters in charge of the operation from the dockside. Before the gas carrier docked, the Afrox team delineated a ‘safe area’ on the docks for the offload and when it arrived the vessel was secured at the dockside.”
“The success of this operation has proved that Afrox’s engineering and technical capabilities are second to none in the gas industry,” Mbatha concludes. “A multidisciplinary team, including our Customer Engineering Services crew and distribution specialists, demonstrated that Afrox will stop at nothing to ensure that our customers’ needs are met.”