The Transnet National Ports Authority (NPA) controls and manages the Port of Richards Bay. The NPA is responsible for dealing with global terminal operators, implementing changing technologies, negotiating with international partners, and keeping up with South Africa's ever-changing distribution patterns. The NPA also coordinates the activities of the country's ports to minimize duplications and maximize each port's unique capabilities.
The Port of Richards Bay is South Africa's main and most modern port handling bulk cargoes. While it was initially built to export coal, it has expanded to handle a variety of breakbulk and bulk cargoes since it began operating.
In 2008, the Port of Richards Bay handled 82.7 million tons of cargo. During the 2008-2009 shipping season, the Port of Richards Bay welcomed 1750 ships carrying 82.7 million tons of cargo. Of that total, 78.7 million tons was bulk, and 3.9 million tons was breakbulk cargo, and exports accounted for 76.4 million tons, or 92% of all cargoes.
The Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) handled 61.8 million tons of coal exports in 2008-2009. Each day, a non-stop 200-wagon train delivers coal to the RBCT carrying about 16.8 thousand tons, and the terminal can stockpile up to six million tons of coal. Since the terminal opened, it has handled more than one billion tons of coal exports.
The approach channel is dredged to a depth 17.5 meters, while the entrance is 19.5 meters deep. Depth at the berths ranges from 8 meters at the berth for small craft to 19 meters at the coal berths. Pilotage is required for all vessels entering and leaving the Port of Richards Bay from about three nautical miles south of the breakwater. The NPA provides dredging services to maintain adequate depth in the entrance channel, and the Port of Richards Bay hires private dredging firms as needed.
Today's Port of Richards Bay covers almost 2.2 thousand hectares of land and 1.5 hectares of water. It exports products from the Mpumalanga and from the Provinces of KwaZulu Natal, East Cape, and North Cape. The Port of Richards Bay is primarily an export port, sending cargoes of coal, timber, and granite to ports around the world.
The Port of Richards Bay contains 21 berths, including berths operated by the Richards Bay Coal Terminal. With rail and conveyor belt systems, the port can service the berths directly from nearby plants and factories. The Port of Richards Bay handles most vessels at five berths, each of which are 350 meters long with alongside depth of 19 meters and maximum allowable draft of 17.5 meters. The chemical berth is 300 meters long with maximum permissible draft of 12.5 meters.
The Port of Richards Baycontains a Dry Bulk Terminal, a Multi-purpose Terminal, a privately-operated Coal Terminal, and privately-operated terminals that handle wood chip exports and bulk liquid cargoes.
To date, the largest ship that the Port of Richards Bay has handled was the 372.2 thousand DWT Brazilian Pride, which was 353.7 meters long and 63.4 meters wide and had a draft of 21.8 meters. The largest coal shipment that the Port of Richards Bay has handled was loaded onto the 206.3 thousand DWT Ocean Vanguard bulk carrier.
The Port of Richards Bay offers a complete dive service for inspecting ships. Ship repairs occur quayside because the port does not yet have ship repair facilities, although the port is planning to build a large ship repair facility. Bunkering services are provided either through bunker barge or at the coal and chemical berths.
The Port of Richards Bay is served by dedicated railway connecting the port to Gauteng and Mpumalanga Province. The railway was designed to handle most of the country's coal exports. Other railroads connect the Port of Richards Bay with the Port of Durban and with Mpumalanga and Swaziland. A well-maintained road also connects the Port of Richards Bay with Durban to the south.
Over time, the Port of Richards Bay has become a more popular for international cruises. Its proximity to several game parks and to the St. Lucia World Heritage Site has attracted cruise passengers. The Port of Richards Bay contains a modern marina, and it offers recreational facilities and water sports.