The Namibian Ports Authority (Namport) says recent unprecedented cyber-attacks on South African ports has heightened its awareness on the importance of safety and security amongst regional logistics chains, as any disruptions may have a serious effect on the general livelihoods of people.
Namibia’s ports are strategically interlinked with South African ports on a coastal network – and, as a result, the recent attacks even disrupted the smooth flow of cargo to and from domestic ports.
This is according to Namport CEO Andrew Kanime, who, in response to New Era questions, vowed that the ports authority takes cyber security “very seriously” and always strives in risk management plans to implement measures to be better prepared for cyber-attacks.
The Namport CEO, appointed in September 2020, said Namport has implemented robust and state-of-the-art cyber security protection technologies and processes. These measure are reviewed and audited on an annual basis, and they are audited to conform to the technology and security industry standards.
The first indications of the SA ports cyber-attack emerged towards the end of July 2021 when Transnet, a South African state-owned enterprise, reported issues with its information technology (IT) networks. Transnet manages South Africa’s rail, port and pipeline infrastructure and the disruption primarily affected operations in several container terminals, thus interrupting cargo movement. Four days later, Transnet confirmed it had suffered a cyber-attack.
“On the flip side of this attack, we have seen carriers diverting ships from global economic hubs with cargo destined for the RSA ports to regional ports, including the port of Walvis Bay. As a result, the regional ports will temporarily store these cargoes until the cyber-attack is cleared. Thereafter, feeder ships will carry them onwards to the various port destinations in South Africa,” Kanime told New Era.
He added that while Namibian ports were not directly affected by the recent unrest, the cyber turmoil mainly affected the port of Durban, which is sub-Saharan Africa’s busiest container port.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an African non-profit organisation with offices in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal, called the recent attacks unprecedented and noted that since the start of Covid-19, the number of cyber-attacks has been increasing worldwide and in South Africa. This has inflicted severe financial losses across the manufacturing, banking and energy sectors.
ISS also noted that South Africa’s critical infrastructure has been targeted before, with minor impact, but the recent incident was the first time the operational integrity of the country’s critical maritime infrastructure suffered such harsh disruptions.
“The number of similar incidents across Africa will probably increase as maritime ports seek to increase efficiency and effectiveness through digitalisation. In this instance, transport infrastructure, especially a harbour, present lucrative targets for cyber criminals or other hostile actors due to the scope of operations and the many stakeholders involved,” the ISS stated.
Covid impact on operations
Meanwhile, Kanime confirmed that the global pandemic has, indeed, impacted Namport’s operations – both in terms of volume throughput and as well as resources availability for operations. This is because the level of business volume that any port handles is connected to the level of trade involved among other trading partners or transport routes.
Kanime explained that the level of demand (either as exports or imports) affects the volume that Namport will handle in this case.
“So, we saw ups and downs in volume, which at most, we could relate to the Covid-19 effect (mainly the restrictions) – either from the markets (countries/ports) where imports are predominantly coming from or even hinterlands where our exports are coming from. The vessels that called the ports too were affected in relations to cargo flows, as vessels go wherever there is cargo. In this respect, we could see, in some cases, less vessel calls as a result of little cargo destined for our shores, which also, in return, was caused by lockdowns in source countries where cargo is imported from,” said Kanime.
Said Kanime: “The result, in this case, could have been lesser staff on duty – and in terms of operations, it could mean a vessel that is in port has to say longer, as deployed resources are just enough to handle so much”.
He also noted that most of the ports’ equipment is predominantly sourced from abroad.
Due to Covid-related restrictions, this meant that lead-time to get back-up parts for maintenance was extended more than normal. As a ripple effect, demand for parts surged as other ports around the world dealt with the same challenges.