Cape Town - Transnet plans to build its own coal terminal at Richards Bay to break the export stranglehold of major miners and open up capacity for new market entrants.
The existing Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT), the world's largest coal export facility, handles output from established major mining companies.
But would-be exporters complain it is difficult to acquire capacity from its owners - Anglo American, BHP Billiton , Xstrata, Exxaro and Glencore .
"Transnet is busy investigating an open-access coal terminal for the unlocking of emerging or junior miners in the coal industry," said Sudesh Maharaj, programme director for Transnet's Richards Bay port expansion projects.
"This is mainly due to the situation that we have had up to now, where smaller miners can't mine until there is export capacity."
He told Reuters that state-owned Transnet planned to build a terminal capable of exporting 14 million tonnes a year which could be expanded to 32 million tonnes.
The facility could begin exporting by mid-2020 if approved by the Transnet board and would be able to stockpile four to eight grades of coal.
"It has started as being a Transnet driven initiative and once marine infrastructure was in place, a private operator may be sought through the company's procurement processes," Maharaj said on the sidelines of an African ports conference.
Maharaj said the new coal terminal would be developed alongside an expansion of the port's general freight terminals, which are operating at near full capacity of 24 million tonnes a year.
Besides its main commodity coal, Richards Bay also handles liquids and dry bulk as well as minerals including chrome, ferrochrome, magnetite and ferromanganese and other break-bulk commodities.
Maharaj said fluctuating global prices for coal would not deter Transnet from building the new coal terminal.
"Long-term projects must continue irrespective of cyclical shifts in markets and economies," he said.
South Africa exported 5.56 million tonnes of coal from RBCT in October, slightly up from the previous month.