Press Center | Freight Shipping Logistics News

The Mombasa port is now able to accommodate large vessels with the dredging of the harbour.
The Mombasa port is now able to accommodate large vessels with the dredging of the harbour.

Cargo on large ships destined for other ports in the region will first be offloaded at Mombasa, where they will then be transferred to smaller vessels.

This will improve delivery of cargo to regional ports between Mombasa and Durban.

Last month, two large container ships arrived at the port as the project entered its final stages. They were MSC Jade, which is 241 metres long and 32 metres wide, and MSC Roberta, which is 244 metres long and 32 metres wide.

The container vessels are so far the largest ever to sail into the Kilindini Channel, which has been dredged to a depth of 15 metres, and a width of 300 metres at its narrowest point.

“The turning basin has also been dredged to a depth of 15 metres and widened to 500 metres, and the call by the two large ships is a clear indicator of some of the benefits set to be realised now that dredging has been completed,” said Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) corporate affairs manager Bernard Osero.

The project, which took 18 months to complete, was carried out by a Dutch company, Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contractors, at a cost of $62 million (Sh5.1 billion).

The Likoni Channel, through which ships access the port, was initially 250 metres wide. After dredging, it is now over 300 metres wide.

The turning basin, the point at which a vessel turns as it leaves the port, is now 600 metres wide and can be used by vessels that are 350 metres long.

The harbour, where the ships dock, has been dredged to a depth of 12.5 metres from the initial 10.4 metres, while the channel is now 15 metres deep, from 13.5 metres.

According to KPA manager in charge of operations Khamis Twalib, the additional 1.5 metres is crucial to a port.

The depth is applicable during low tide, and the harbour attains even higher depth at high tide.

Previously, the port could only accommodate ships with an average length of 200 metres and 2,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (teus) capacity.

Currently, the port can handle post-Panamax vessels with a capacity of between 4,000 and 6,000 teus, said Captain Twalib.

According to him, freight rates are projected to drop by up to 50 per cent since shipping lines will now ferry large quantities of cargo using fewer vessels and benefit from economies of scale.

Maritime logistics experts say shipping lines that used to operate up to 10 ships on the route will now run half that number since they can send vessels of a bigger capacity to the port.

The vessel transit times will also decrease by more than 200 per cent. The average time for a ship sailing, for instance, from Europe, currently stands at 50 days since they have to call in at various ports as they deliver cargo, said Capt Twalib.

“A direct voyage from Amsterdam to Mombasa is about 15 days, which means goods will reach the users faster,” he said, noting that due to increased capacity, cargo dwell time at the port would be reduced to less than eight days from a high of 15 days a year ago”.

“Manufacturers will also benefit from economies of scale because bigger ships will bring in bigger quantities of raw materials,” he said. “They will also operate on predictable schedules due to the prompt arrival of their raw materials. It is expected that the efficiencies will eventually lead to lower commodity prices for consumers.”

However, according to Kenya Ship Agents Association chief executive officer Juma Tellah, reducing freight rates will depend on several factors, and might not be forthcoming any time soon.

“It is true that there will be lower operating costs, but there has to be efficiency in all areas of cargo handling because if, for instance, a large vessel is kept waiting to be allocated a berth, then the economies of scale will not be realised as it costs more to maintain a bigger vessel than a small one,” he said.

He noted that over the past five years, freight rates had decreased due to competition by major shipping lines. For instance, shipping a container of tea to Karachi used to cost about $950 (Sh78,000). This cost has now gone down by more than 40 per cent.

“During this time, some lines have been operating on very thin margins and I think they will need to first recover from the losses incurred before reducing freight rates further,” he added.

Major benefits will also be accrued when all the projects are completed and the port creates a bigger capacity, Mr Tellah said.

The completion of the dredging project comes at a time when the port is facing capacity constraints and operating at full capacity.

According to figures released by KPA managing director Gichiri Ndua early last month, the rise in imports handled in 2011 represented a 4.5 per cent growth while exports grew by 8.2 per cent.