Two berths at the Mombasa port will be rehabilitated to accommodate cruise ships as Kenya prepares to increase its earnings from the lucrative tourism segment following improved security off the Somali coast.
The plans were shelved two years ago when piracy attacks cast doubt over the future of the business.
Kenya Ports Authority general manager Khamis Twalib said that Berths 1 and 2 would be rehabilitated at a cost of Sh100 million.
Both berths handle conventional cargo as well as cruise ships, but lack adequate facilities for tourists. This has compromised the quality of services that adventure tourists get compared to other destinations like South Africa.
The MV Silver Wind Nassau recently became the first cruise ship to sail to Mombasa this season, signalling increased confidence by the international community that the Somali coast was safer in the wake of the Kenya-driven Operation Linda Nchi, which has since been absorbed into the African Union’s Amisom force.
“We are in discussions with four cruise ship companies who want to start operations in the region by next year,” said Auni Kanji, managing director of Abercrombie and Kent, the tour operating company that is handling MV Silver Wind Nassau.
The ship carrying 300 passengers, most of them American, and a crew of 200 members will proceed to Madagascar, Mauritius and South Africa after 24 hours stay in Mombasa.
The government has harboured plans to construct a modern cruise terminal since 2006 when it failed to get a strategic investor for the facility in line with the port’s master plan of 2004. Under the plan, the two berths would have been developed into a world class cruise ship bay with restaurants and other service centres.
Mr Twalib said attempts by pirates to attack vessels over the past two months have failed because of increased naval presence off the Somali coast. There are 40 naval ships from 12 countries patrolling the East African coastline and some shipping lines have employed armed private guards as escorts. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported in September that pirates launched 199 attacks in the first nine months of this year, compared to 126 over the corresponding period in 2010 but only managed to hijack 24 vessels, down from 35 in 2010.
The Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) says there were at least 219 ship attacks off the Somali Coast last year. KMA director general Nancy Karigithu said Somali pirates hijacked at least 49 ships and took 1,016 crew members hostage.
She said total ransom paid as of June this year was Sh 1.7 billion ($254 million) and that 14 vessels with 345 hostages were being held awaiting payment of ransom.
She warned that the first half of 2012 was likely to see increased piracy as was experienced this year.
Pirate attacks had seen cruise operators shift interest to South Africa despite the height and speed capabilities of their vessels to act as shields against hijacking.
East and South Africa Indian Ocean countries have formed the Cruise Indian Ocean Association (CIOA) to represent the region in international trade fairs and market the region as a cruise tourism destination.
The CIOA region has natural attractions which include Nubian Deserts, Mt Kilimanjaro, Great Rift Valley, beach and wildlife attractions. Other features include the slave markets of Zanzibar, River Nile and Lake Victoria. Table Mountain and Robben Island of South Africa are also popular with tourists.
Additional reporting by Eunice Machuhi.