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Cargo traffic through Mombasa port is projected to increase by 15 per cent this year, latest figures show, straining its capacity which has led to the suspension of trans-shipment business.
Cargo traffic through Mombasa port is projected to increase by 15 per cent this year, latest figures show, straining its capacity which has led to the suspension of trans-shipment business.

While increased cargo traffic is an indicator of growing trade in the country and in the region, the government has been slow in expanding and modernising the port. The port’s chief operations manager Joseph Atonga said increased throughput had forced the management to reject cargo trans-shipment.

Trans-shipment is the movement of goods or container to an intermediate destination, and then to another destination.

“We have been forced to reject trans-shipment because of inadequate berths at the port. Transhipment is the major activity for ports in Singapore and we are losing on this business,” he said.

He said there is a noted rise in import of clinker, a key component in cement manufacturing, and steel, attributed to the booming construction industry.

“In the last two weeks there has been imports of between 400,000 and 500,000 tonnes of clinker for Uganda and Kenya,” he said.

Other increases in imports this year are fertilisers and motor vehicles, while imported grains have declined compared to last year, when the country faced food shortages. The total cargo traffic is expected to rise to 700,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (Teus) this year, an improvement from 618,816 Teus last year.

The cargo traffic between January and October has reached 574,000 teus compared to 509,000 in the same period last year.

“The port has serious capacity constraints in terms of inadequate berths. This leads to slightly longer vessel waiting time during the peak season, hence threat of vessels delay surcharge (VDS) by shipping lines,” said Mr Atonga.

With Rift Valley Railways still putting its house in order, most of the cargo is transported by road, slowing down the cargo movement. Rapid expansion of economic activities has seen countries in the region grow by an average of 5 per cent, hence increased volume of imports and exports that have piled pressure on the port.

Mombasa port serves Uganda, with a bulk uptake of 80 per cent of imports, Rwanda 5 per cent, Northern Tanzania 5 per cent, Sudan 3 per cent, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo 5.8 per cent as well as Burundi and Ethiopia with less than 1 per cent each.

More shipping lines

According to Kenya Maritime Authority director general, Mrs Nancy Kirigithu, eight more shipping lines are about to enter, with one application still pending.

“There is an increased interest in shipping which has been expensive for a long time. We hope this will bring down the costs and improve the services,” she said.

Ms Kirigithu said it costs an average of $1,500 (Sh120,000) per container delayed at the port, hence contributing to higher cost of goods in the market.

With the entry of new shipping lines, Mr Atonga said there’s pressure to upgrade and expand facilities on schedule.

The port introduced the 24-hour working model to ease congestion, but Mr Atonga said vessels have increased in numbers and sizes. The government is undertaking multi-billion projects jointly with donors to ease congestion and offer an alternative gateway to Mombasa port.

The projects include extension of the current container terminal that will cost Sh3.4 billion. Dredging of Mombasa port to accommodate larger vessels, whose tenders have been awarded for $62 million (Sh 5 billion) will commence in February and is expected to be completed in three years.

The government has so far committed Sh1.44 billion to the project.

Others are development of new terminal with 1.2 million Teus, whose tender is going on, with phase one scheduled to be completed in 2015. The government is also seeking to develop 3000-acre free port at Dongo Kundu through public-private partnerships and has already signed a technical support agreement with Singapore.

These projects, together with the second port to be constructed in Lamu, are expected to ease congestion at Mombasa port and offer alternative gateways in case of calamity, apart from serving emerging markets in Southern Sudan and Somalia.