VISIBLE: The Port of Durban, Africa’s busiest harbour, will be the first to benefit from new cameras being installed by Transnet National Ports Authority to beef up security at the country’s eight commercial ports. Picture: THE TIMES/MARIANNE SCHWANKHART

TRANSNET National Ports Authority (TNPA) is banking on security upgrades worth R800m in fighting cargo theft, preventing damage to port facilities and dealing with stowaways.

TNPA is a division of freight and logistics parastatal Transnet, which plans to spend R340bn-R380bn in upgrading its rail, port and pipeline infrastructure over 10 years.

The unit controls and manages SA’s eight commercial ports.

TNPA is looking to spend R2bn over the next five years to refurbish port facilities. An additional R13bn-R15bn will be invested in the construction of new facilities.

Richard Vallihu, TNPA’s CEO, said the government’s focus on the ocean economy under the Operation Phakisa programme "is a major driver for port investment".

Among other targets, Operation Phakisa aims to unlock economic opportunities from SA’s oceans, estimated to have the potential to contribute R177bn to gross domestic product by 2033, up from R54bn in 2010.

The port security upgrades include 2,100 high definition cameras, up from 864 previously, as well as long-range cameras to monitor port channel entrances.

Neotel is the major service provider in the procurement.

Vehicle security at the Port of Durban will be enhanced through licence plate recognition.

The system also features increased night visibility through thermal imaging that can detect heat emitted by objects or bodies, especially in low visibility areas and through smoke, fog and haze.

The newly renovated control room at the Port of Durban was first to go live last week, with the other seven ports expected to follow suit in due course.

Defence expert Helmoed Heitman said the investment was critical as security at SA’s ports had to meet international standards.

"It is important because we are a trading nation and there are international security standards that need to be met," said Mr Heitman. "If you don’t fit in with international security standards, you can’t trade."

Mr Heitman said security investments were also a necessity at SA’s fishing harbours, as there was "no security there at all".

Other investments the authority intends making at the commercial ports include creating deeper berths at the Durban Container Terminal to increase capacity and creating bulk capacity at the Port of Ngqura through the construction of a new manganese terminal and a tank farm. It will also be acquiring new helicopters for Durban and Richards Bay.

"TNPA is on a journey to create a port system with the infrastructure and capacities to promote economic growth and contribute to job creation, (and) these investments are aimed at supporting this goal," Mr Vallihu said.