Transnet stops port operations in South Africa after major cyber attack

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Transnet, a South African state-owned rail, port and pipeline company, appears to be in crisis mode after being hit by a cyber attack five days ago.

The logistics company was forced to cease operations at container terminals in Durban, Ngqura, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing a message that Transnet had sent to customers.

“Transnet, including Transnet port terminals, experienced a cyber attack, security breach and sabotage that resulted in the disruption of normal processes and functions of TPT or the destruction or damage of equipment or information,” the statement said.

“Investigators are currently determining the exact cause of the threat and the extent of the violation or sabotage of ICT data security,” it continues.

Transnet did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment. His website was unavailable on Tuesday morning and showed an error message.

The company, founded in 1991 and headquartered in Johannesburg, announced on Thursday that there were disruptions in its IT network. On Friday it was said to have identified and isolated the source of the disorder.

But the technical problems seem to remain. In the customer communication, Transnet is said to have declared “force majeure”, i.e. when unforeseeable circumstances prevent a company from fulfilling the contract.

Transnet’s port in Durban handles over 60% of South Africa’s container traffic.

According to Bloomberg, the company is taking “all available and reasonable mitigation measures” to limit the impact of the disruption.

Last Friday, the head of the South African Road Freight Association said in a statement that he was “upset and seriously concerned” by the cyber attack.

Gavin Kelly, CEO of RFA, said the attack resulted in “massive delays and unreliability in goods traffic across all modes,” adding that road freight is bearing the brunt of the impact.

“The gates to the ports are closed, which means that no trucks are moving in either direction,” he said. “This has an immediate effect: the queues will be much longer, deliveries will be delayed and the traffic jams will increase.”

The disruption threatens the most industrialized economy in Africa. South Africa is trying to recover from the deadly unrest following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.

Transnet had asked some of its employees who were not involved in day-to-day operations to take leave until the problems were resolved, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing two sources familiar with the matter.