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South Africa’s coal exports to EU destinations have surged 10-fold so far this month versus the same period last year as European utilities ramp up purchases amid efforts to replace Russian volumes, vessel tracking data showed on Wednesday.

VesselsValue data showed 2.4 tonnes of coal was shipped from the country’s main export hub at Richards Bay, of which 0.56m tonnes was exported to European destinations such as France and the Netherlands.

This compared with just 0.06m tonnes – carried on one vessel to France – in 1-20 April last year.

EU countries will no longer allow imports of Russian coal from 10 August, under the bloc’s fifth package of sanctions against the country in response to its invasion of Ukraine, with no new purchases permitted since 8 April.

As such, European coal traders have been looking to alternative countries for supply, with South Africa – formerly one of Europe’s largest suppliers of thermal coal – topping the preference list for many.

There appears to be strong demand from European utilities for South African coal, said a Pretoria-based coal analyst with a consultancy. “Buyers from the EU are prepared to visit South Africa to find a supplier,” he added.

However, a Johannesburg-based coal trader pointed out that the EU “generally requires high-specification coal” that is not readily available like it was five to 10 years ago when the bloc bought more South African supply.

Export decline
Meanwhile, total exports from the Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) in the month-to-date were down by nearly a third on the year, the data showed, as the country continues to struggle with logistical constraints between mines and the port.

South African logistics firm Transnet last week declared force majeure on shipments of coal to RBCT, citing its “inability to perform services at its stated system capacity” due in part to a lack of locomotives and vandalism on the rail networks.

“RBCT is still receiving and loading coal from the mines, although it continues to be at a lower rate,” terminal spokesperson Nontuthuko Mgabhi told Montel.

“At this stage, other than the lower throughput rate, it has not adversely impacted on the operations,” she added.