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Expect shortages of essential goods like cooking gas in the coming days following delays in off-loading goods at Mombasa port.
Expect shortages of essential goods like cooking gas in the coming days following delays in off-loading goods at Mombasa port.

The port is choking under piles of containers, with ships taking more than seven days to offload, up from three days. This has been blamed on inefficiencies in the clearing process over the past six months.

A ship carrying cooking gas is, for example, yet to be allocated space to offload the product two weeks after it arrived at the port.

Ships are taking between 10 and 15 days to be allocated a berth, meaning the importer is paying demurrage charges (ship delay charges) of between Sh1.6 million and Sh2.4 million a day, depending on the size of the vessel.

This cost is automatically passed on to consumers, pointing to a possible rise in the cost of goods.

The delays could not have come at a worse time when the country is recovering from a serious gas shortage that saw prices triple in the last four months.

Kenyans are already feeling the pinch due to high cost of goods as inflation edged close to 20 per cent.

The delays are set to cause losses to companies which import raw materials for production.

Landlocked countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda which export and import essential commodities through the port are also headed for tougher times.

It now takes more than a month for a container to go through the port and by road to Kigali, Rwanda, up from 24 days.

Containers to Kampala, Uganda, take 29 days by road, up from 21 days.

By Tuesday, the container yard, which has the capacity to handle 14,500 Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit (Teus), had more than 18,000 containers.

Experts say when the container terminal is congested it affects other operations, including off-loading cargo from ships and transfer to the Container Freight Stations (CFSs), which are currently handling domestic containers.

Kenya Shippers Council (KSC) and the Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association (Kifwa) blame the delays on limited use of modern equipment by the Kenya Ports Authority.

Mr Gilbert Langat, the KSC boss, said the port had performed below average over the last six months.

“Cargo owners would not mind to collect their goods even in 24 hours. Today, the dwell time has deteriorated from 5.3 to six days and the shippers pay storage charges to CFS operators for inefficiencies at the facility,” Mr Langat said.

Importers of fabrics say they are losing huge amounts of money due to the delays.

Textile manufacturers warn prolonged delays may lead to closures due to late arrival of raw materials from India, China and Far East countries.

Mr Thomas Puthoor, the chairman of the Kenya Apparel Manufacturers Association, said while it took between 10 to 15 days for a ship to be allocated a berth, it takes about 4-5 days to offload a container.

“This has been a perpetual problem of vessel delays for about eight months now. As a result, the production time and deadlines to manufacture garments for export is affected,” he said.

Kenyan Export Processing Zone firms export fabrics to the US under the Africa Growth Opportunity Act quota that gives 38 Africa countries preferential access to the American market.

Mr Puthoor said it took about 150 days for manufacturers to supply products to the American markets from the time of ordering the fabric to delivery of finished products.

“This period can be reduced to 60 days if the materials were sourced locally but the country lacks enough cotton, leaving us no option but to import,” he said.

A communication officer at the port blamed the backlog on the Christmas holiday.

“Every holiday we face serious congestion since most of the operators in cargo handling close for holiday,” said Mr Haji Masemo, adding that more than 6,000 containers were ready for collection.

Attempts to speed up operations by operating the port round the clock have received little attention from key players.

But the stakeholders say there is no infrastructure to support 24-hour operation.

“Some inter-linkages in the cargo handling logistics such as shipping lines and banks do not work for 24 hours, making operations at night rather difficult,” said Mr Hezron Awiti, Kifwa chairman.