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Tea farmers will receive supplies of fertiliser one month late because of a shortage of labour to offload the commodity at Mombasa port, an official said on Saturday.
Tea farmers will receive supplies of fertiliser one month late because of a shortage of labour to offload the commodity at Mombasa port, an official said on Saturday.

Chai Trading Company general manager Simon Gikanga said that instead of offloading 3,000 tonnes per day, they were doing only 1,000 because there were no loaders. Mv Michakalis, which is carrying 34,898 tonne consignment of nitrogen phosphorous and potassium (NPK) top dressing fertiliser, arrived at the port a week ago.

“This means that the commodity will reach farmers late. When they fail to apply fertiliser in time, the crop might be affected,” said Mr Gikanga.

Chai Trading is a subsidiary of Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), which imports fertiliser on behalf of farmers.

A dispute between the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and the Dock Workers Union over provision of private loaders by shipping lines has resulted in a serious shortage of labour at the port.

Private loaders

A month ago, unionisable workers chased away private loaders — commonly referred to as “gangs” — and threatened them with dire consequences if they continued working at the port.

Cargo handlers and freight forwarders have now warned that shipping lines might avoid Mombasa because of the delays caused by the 70 per cent reduction in the amount of cargo offloaded due to the shortage of workers.

Last week, it took 11 days rather than the usual five to offload a vessel carrying 6,000 tonnes of World Food Programme (WFP) relief food, accruing a surcharge of $96,000 (Sh9.1 million) at a rate of $16,000 (Sh1.5 million) per day, according to port officials.

“WFP is planning to divert their vessels and avoid Mombasa port,” Multiport International, a cargo handling company said in a letter dated August 29, and addressed to KPA managing director Gichiri Ndua.

“Mv Michakalis offloaded 3,200 tonnes in the first four days, yet it was supposed to discharge 3,000 tonnes per day, which means she might incur a surcharge of $400,000 (Sh38 million)," the letter reads.

Mr Gikanga said at the rate at which they were offloading, it will take more than 30 days instead of 11 as per the contract.

The surcharges shipping lines incur are borne by the freight forwarders who factor the costs in freight rates, a major factor in the rising prices of commodities.

According to Multiport, freight rates, which have in the recent past been raised due to piracy surcharges, “will go up by about $20 to $50 per tonne depending on the tonnage carried due to poor discharge rates.”

A senior KPA manager, who declined to be named due to the heated debate the issue has generated, blamed the union for failing to provide labour after they chased away the private loaders.

The official said a vessel that was supposed to take on 6,000 tonnes of relief food destined for Somalia on August 2 was cancelled because there were no loaders.

Dock Workers Union general secretary Simon Sang said the management should be responsible since they had deployed 223 workers at the headquarters, yet they were employed to work at the terminal.

This week importers also complained of delays in allocating berths for ships, which KPA public relations manager Bernard Osero attributed to the delivery of three ship-to-shore cranes.

“The vessel occupied one berth for 10 days. During that period we operated with only one berth, which resulted in a backlog of 10 waiting vessels,” Mr Osero said.