JSE-listed freight and financial services company Grindrod has, this month, taken delivery of 20 of its locomotives that had been recovered and transported from Sierra Leone to the Port of Durban.
The locomotives had been contracted in 2012 for hauling iron-ore from the Tonkilili mine to Pepel port, but the mine halted operations at the end of 2017 and the counterparty defaulted on its lease hire and maintenance payment obligations.
The recovery of the locomotives would allow for the realisation of their value through deployment into new contracts, Grindrod said in a statement on Monday.
A further four locomotives recovered at the same time had already been delivered to a client in Matadi, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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 indicated in a statement on Monday that it had competing demands from rail operators in the region for the locomotives and anticipated that the entire recovered fleet would be delivered to clients by the middle of 2020.
The shipment of the locomotives back to South Africa was a complex task, the company noted, 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 to a transshipment facility established close to the town of Lunsar, where the body of each locomotive, weighing 72 t, was lifted off their bogies by a mobile crane contracted from the neighbouring country of Guinea and loaded onto specialised trucks.
From there they were transported indirectly, avoiding weak bridges and other obstacles for 200 km 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 March 26, 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 Grindrod Rail CEO Andrew Thomas.