Repository logo

Enhancing productivity in a container terminal through a systems approach: a case study of the Port of Durban.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Ports and container terminal processes are vital constituents contributing to the economy of a country. The management of these facilities, including operational productivity advancement strategies, are critical for a port’s competitiveness. A systems approach, with a focus on causal loop diagrams which are part of system dynamics, and aspects of soft systems methodology and container terminal productivity, are the underlying theoretical concepts for this investigation. The research sought to enhance productivity in a container terminal through a systems approach, using the Port of Durban as a case study. The study reports on a sensitivity analysis of key performance indicators for port productivity and how the performance can be improved using systems approaches. The methodology followed a mixed methods approach which incorporated qualitative and quantitative data collection. Secondary data analysis and semi-structured interviews were conducted, including Causal Loop Analysis and Soft Systems Methodology workshops. The key findings of the multiple regression analysis indicate that the critical elements for enhanced productivity at Durban Port are gross crane hour, ship working hour and rail turnaround time. A systems approach facilitated development of causal loop diagrams, rich pictures, root definition, conceptual model and analysis of Customers, Actors, Transformation process, Worldview, Owners and Environmental Constraints for improved terminal operations, with a focus on improved ship turnaround time. The causal loop analysis was instrumental in determining cause and effect factors contributing to the inefficiencies of the terminal and facilitated the discovery of key variables contributing to optimised maritime, terminal and hinterland operations. The Soft Systems Methodology approach facilitated a process of constructing a framework for improving terminal operations by identifying system structure, transformation process, main players and customers, including their interactions within the system, using a CATWOE analysis. The conceptual model enabled identification of required activities needed to improve marine, terminal and hinterland activities within the port and terminal-owned system. The study contributed to new knowledge by exploring all three dimensions that impact efficiencies in the South African context, and through the development of the conceptual model for enhanced terminal operations using a systems approach.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.