UPDATE 2-South Africa says ports remain open despite lockdown

(Adds details on Transnet, quotes)

JOHANNESBURG, April 1 (Reuters) - South Africa’s ports remain open to all types of cargo despite a nationwide 21-day lockdown though essential goods should be prioritised, the Department of Transport said in a notice.

“(The) government has now decided that in the interest of ensuring a functional supply chain across all ports, that all cargoes will be accepted for loading and off-loading,” said the notice, which was dated March 31.

That reversed instructions sent by port authorities to bulk terminals last week saying the export of mineral commodities such as copper would be halted.

That sparked confusion among miners in South Africa, Zambia, and Democratic Republic of Congo over whether they would be able to export copper and other minerals through South African ports.

“The Department of Transport recognises that there have been numerous instructions distributed by various entities, causing confusion amongst... service providers and shipping companies,” said the notice, which was posted on the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s website.

State ports and railways operator Transnet will reactivate certain operations at a reduced level, SAMSA said.

It will prioritise the container logistics system around Durban’s port and the link to the economic hub of Gauteng, heavy haul rail and ports export system from the Northern Cape to Saldanha Port, and domestic and export coal through Richards Bay Port.

Coal for domestic use by power firm Eskom had already been labelled an essential service, but coal exports had not previously been guaranteed.

“The port is open, but there are restrictions. The process has been hampered due to the unavailability of people working,” said a port authority source at Durban, the main gateway for copper and cobalt exports.

Some miners had already made alternative plans. First Quantum Minerals said last week it was managing the export of its Zambian copper production through “alternate routes”.

SAMSA also announced the creation of a Maritime National Joint Operations Committee which would coordinate the maritime sector during the lockdown, bringing together various port authorities and the transport ministry. (Reporting by Helen Reid, Zandi Shabalala and Pratima Desai; editing by Jan Harvey and Jason Neely)