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The process for dredging Mombasa port channel to accommodate huge vessels has started.
The process for dredging Mombasa port channel to accommodate huge vessels has started.

A wider channel will position the port for transshipment which faces a threat from other emerging African facilities.

Tenders to identify a firm that will carry out the process as well as assist in raising the Sh7 billion required for the project have been opened.

Six international firms which submitted their bids and technical capacity to carry out the task will be evaluated in the next one month, according to the tender committee.

China Road and Bridge Corporation of China, Oord Dredging and Marine Construction of Netherlands and Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd of China bid for the project.

Other firms include the Jana Nur Dredging International, Rohde Nielsen and Boskalis International BV.

Firms which will successfully go through the first stage will be invited for the next phase for the contract that is expected to be awarded by September this year.

“We shall involve more players that will include the Ministry of Finance during the next stage of evaluation,” said Mr Omae Nyarandi, procurement and supplies manager at Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), who led the opening exercise. He is also a member of the tendering committee.

Bidders were required to provide a tender security of $1 million with the firm that will win the contract expected to start work before the end of the year, Mr Nyarandi said, adding that the government has already provided Sh1 billion for the project.

“The requirement to provide security from a bank was supposed to ensure that we only receive bids from serious companies who have the capacity to do the job and lock out jokers,” he said.

Related projects

KPA postponed dredging last year until the planned construction of a second container terminal commenced. The two projects are related.

Construction of the second terminal and dredging of the channel are supposed to begin together because the material that would be scooped from the sea would be used to reclaim part of the land for the second terminal.

The port has lost a huge transshipment business over the last two years after suspending such operations due to capacity constraint at the container terminal against a background of growing cargo volumes than anticipated.

Shipping lines calling at Dar-es-Salaam port are seeking alternative sites due to long vessel delays which is taking up to three times more than Mombasa port, KPA operations manager engineer Joseph Atonga said.

Mombasa is the most ideal alternative. “We can only tap this business once we construct the second container terminal,” he said.

Vessel delay

KPA stopped transshipment in 2008 after the port faced serious congestion and a threat of vessel delay surcharge by shipping lines.

Out of the 16 million tonnes of cargo handled by the Mombasa port in 2007, 700,000 were for transshipment.

The second container terminal is funded by the Japanese Government at a cost of Sh16 billion and will create an additional capacity of 1.2 million twenty foot equivalent units (Teus) compared to the 250,000 capacity of the present terminal.

According to Mr Atonga, Mombasa port is also targeting transshipment deals from Seychelles, Mauritius, Tanga, Zanzibar and Maputo, once the dredging and the second container terminal are done.

The current port channel has a limited water depth of 10 metres to 11 metres and cannot accommodate the new generation ships called post-Panamax vessels.

Mombasa port is currently a feeder facility with most cargo traffic being trans-shipped through hub ports like Salalah in Oman, Jeddah, Durban and Singapore.

“Once the dredging is complete, the channel will accommodate huge vessels today preferred by shipping lines operators,” said Mr Atonga adding that the project is expected to take three years before completion.

Have capacity

However, maritime experts say that even with the planned dredging, the channel will not have the capacity to handle the present generation vessels with a capacity for over 10,000 Teus.

The port is likely to be feed for Lamu and other emerging ports in Africa.

A new port in South Africa - Ngqura - was opened five months ago bringing the total number in South Africa to eight. This positions it well for transshipment to East and West Africa.

The future of Kenya in maritime lies with the second port in Lamu, which with a channel of natural depth of 18 metres will have the capacity to handle modern ships.