Transnet, South Africa's state-owned ports and freight-rail company, declared force majeure at the country's key container terminals after disruptions caused by a cyberattack five days ago.
The measure covers the Durban, Ngqura, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town harbours because of the effects of the July 22 attack, according to a notice Transnet sent to customers and seen by Bloomberg News. The issues "continue to persist," it said.
Force majeure is an unanticipated or uncontrollable event that releases a company from fulfilling contractual obligations.
"Transnet, including Transnet Port Terminals, experienced an act of cyber-attack, security intrusion and sabotage, which resulted in the disruption of TPT normal processes and functions or the destruction or damage of equipment or information," it said. "Investigators are currently determining the exact source of the cause of compromise and extent of the ICT data security breach or sabotage."
The disruption threatens to have a ripple effect on Africa's most-industrialised economy, particularly as Transnet's Durban port handles 60% of the nation's shipments. The ports are also key to shippers from landlocked African countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A prolonged impact on container terminal operations looms as a further blow to South Africa's fragile recovery from the pandemic and a series of lockdowns, after the destruction caused by deadly riots that shuttered businesses in two provinces earlier this month.
Transnet is taking "all available and reasonable mitigation measures" to limit the impact from the disruption. Container terminals are operating, but at a slower place pace, while a manual system for moving containers has been adopted.
It said in a statement on Tuesday morning that the force majeure is expected to lift soon.
"It is expected that some applications may continue to run slowly over the next few days, while monitoring continues. All operating systems will be brought back in a staggered manner, to minimise further risks and interruptions," it said.
"The business continuity plans have enabled Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) to continue utilising manual backup operations, and run trains as planned. We wish to assure stakeholders and customers that all processes followed allow for the safe operation of trains."