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JOHANNESBURG, June 15 (Reuters) – European countries, scrambling to find alternatives to Russian coal, imported 40% more coal from South Africa’s main export hub in the first five months of this year than in all of 2021, according to figures obtained by Reuters. Wednesday.

South Africa’s Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) delivered 3,240,752 tonnes of coal to European countries at the end of May this year, or 15% of RBCT’s overall exports, compared to 2,321,190 (4%) in 2021, according to the numbers.

From the second week of August, imports of Russian coal will be banned in the European Union, as part of wide-ranging sanctions against Moscow.

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RBCT did not immediately respond to a request for comment. RBCT generally provides annual figures and does not give a full breakdown of export destinations.

The Netherlands, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Germany and Ukraine have received coal from RBCT so far this year. Some of them started importing from RBCT only after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The Netherlands received no coal from RBCT in January or February, but imported 1.27 million tonnes of coal from the terminal in March, April and May, with volumes increasing each month. It was the fourth largest recipient of RBCT coal, accounting for 5.76% of total volumes.

French coal imports from RBCT have increased almost sevenfold, from just 68,005 tonnes for the whole of last year to 464,432 tonnes so far this year.

Spain, Poland and Germany did not import RBCT coal last year. In the first five months of this year, Spain imported 355,250 tons, Poland 181,515 tons and Germany 157,383 tons.

Japan, which has also said it will ban imports of Russian coal, has received 388,249 tons of coal from RBCT since January, nearly double the tonnage purchased last year. Read more

China, RBCT’s third-largest coal importer in 2021 at 6.09 million tonnes, received no coal from the terminal this year, the figures showed, reflecting rising Chinese imports of Russian coal.

The surge in exports to Europe came despite a backdrop of poor performance at RBCT, underscoring the missed opportunity for South Africa as fossil fuel prices soared.

Poor maintenance, a lack of locomotives and the theft of copper cables have eroded South Africa’s state-owned freight rail services that transport coal to RBCT and other ports. Some miners instead use trucks to transport their coal to the port. Read more

RBCT exported 22,057,587 tons of coal in the first five months of 2022. At this rate, RBCT will again see a drop in its annual exports after its 2021 tonnages were the lowest since 1996.

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Reporting by Helen Reid and Nelson Banya, editing by David Gregorio

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