Expansion of the port of Mombasa over the past four years has enabled it to handle larger volumes of cargo, making the facility attractive to big global shipping lines.
The Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) says the “vast improvement” in the efficiency of operations is another major reason the facility has caught the eye of larger vessels.
Two weeks ago, the port received a container vessel Mv Spero, operated by Hapag-Lloyd, a German shipping company, marking the firm’s start of operations to East Africa.
Hapag-Lloyd is the world’s sixth largest container carrier in terms of vessel capacity and currently, six of the top 10 container shipping lines are now calling at the port.
These are Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Company, CMA-CGM, China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and Evergreen Shipping line.
“The fact that more shipping lines are calling at the port is a manifestation of the confidence the global shipping and business community has in the Mombasa port,” says KPA Managing Director Catherine Mturi-Wairi. She attributed this to a raft of reforms achieved under the Mombasa Port Development Programme (MPDP).
The MPDP kicked off in 2005 as part of the actualisation of a 25-year Port Master Plan that focused on capacity enhancement in the wake of growth in cargo volumes. Another component of the MPDP is application of modern technology in the port’s procedures.
“Implementation of this programme has continued to increase efficiency in operations, reducing ship turnaround time from 4.9 days a few years ago to 2.5 days. Container dwell time has reduced from 7.1 days to 3.5 days,” the MD said.
Ship turnaround refers to time taken to offload a vessel while dwell time is the period within which a container leaves the port from the time it is offloaded.
KPA senior public relations officer Hajj Masemo expects more shipping lines to introduce service at the port sooner or later.
“We have talked to a number of shipping lines and hope that soon they will start calling at the port. Also, Hapag Lloyd which called with a small vessel of 1,700 TEUs will bring in a bigger ship of up to 3,000 TEUs,” he said.
The authority is also rehabilitating all the berths at the port so that they are able to handle container vessels while extension of the Standard Gauge Railway into the port is expected to help evacuate cargo from the facility faster and more efficiently.
Over the past decade, Mombasa port has seen huge increase in cargo volumes, handling 27 million tonnes in 2017 up from 14.4 million tonnes in 2006.
This is projected to increase to 44.03 million tonnes by 2025 and 56.04 million tonnes by 2030. This increase, according to analysts, point to a need for serious investments to upgrade the facility’s capacity.
KPA is currently operating phase one of the second container terminal which was commissioned in 2016. With a capacity to handle 500,000 (TEUs, the terminal was constructed at a cost of Sh30 billion. It was funded by the Japanese government through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
This is the largest single project the government has undertaken at the port, with the other projects being the construction of the Sh10 billion berth 19 and dredging of the harbour to accommodate large vessels.
Completion of the terminal means that KPA can now handle trans-shipment business, where big vessels drop containers at the port after which they are transported to regional ports using smaller vessels.
This business has eluded the largest port in East Africa for a long time due to space constraints.
The terminal has raised the port’s capacity to over 1.5 million containers.
This is the first of the three-phase project expected to add 1.2 million TEUs capacity at the Mombasa port, pushing the total cargo to 2.5 million TEUS.
According to an official at the KPA, construction of phase two of the terminal which will cost Sh32 billion is expected to start next month.
“The contract has already been signed in accordance with the agreement with the Japanese government which is funding the project. The contractor is finalising mobilisation of equipment and work is expected to start on May 1 and completed in 38 months,” the official said.
The KPA will also relocate the Kipevu Oil Terminal to a bigger and safer site which will have the capacity to handle four ships at a time with provisions for a facility to handle liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and the export of crude oil.
However, despite these strides, the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA) which runs the Transport Observatory, a monitoring tool that measures 30 indicators on the performance along the Northern Corridor and Mombasa port, says some procedures at the port are still slow.
NCTTCA says it still takes too long to clear documents at the one-stop centre, with clearance time marginally decreasing from 55 hours in 2015 to 50 hours in January 2018, which is far below the target of 24 hours.
The authority also tracks performance targets of the Mombasa Port Community Charter signed in June 2014 by 25 agencies involved in cargo clearance. It was witnessed by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“This suggests that there is still poor performance which has made the 24 hours target remain elusive and points to prevailing inefficiencies. Implementing mechanisms for speeding up clearance of cargo processes by all the stakeholders involved to realize the required results of one day is important,” the Authority says in a recent report.