Transshipment container traffic at the port of Mombasa jumped 74 per cent in 2019, buoyed by a strong performance in the second-half of the year, raising Kenya’s hope of consolidating its grip as the preferred gateway to the region.
Data by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) shows that the Mombasa port handled a transshipment (goods destined for other ports) traffic of 211,204 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in 2019 compared to 121,577 the previous year.
This pushed the share of transshipment in the overall port throughput to 7.2 per cent in 2019 compared to four per cent in 2018 and representing an increase in volume of 1.25 million tonnes. “In the transshipment segment, our dream to become a regional transshipment hub is taking shape” KPA acting managing director, Rashid Salim said.
The increase reflects the gains from the ongoing expansion of infrastructure at the port of Mombasa as well as the Internal Container Depot (ICD) in Nairobi.
Despite the potential in the region, KPA had over the years restricted the volume of transit cargo to avoid congestion due to limited handling and storage capacities at the port of Mombasa. KPA statistics show transshipment traffic had for several years remained at less than one per cent of the total cargo containers handled at the port.
Mombasa port recently underwent expansion works that included construction of a new container terminal and dredging to enable bigger vessels access the facility. The first phase of the expansion project partially-financed by Japan was inaugurated in 2016.
The second phase is currently 40 per cent complete and entails construction of berth 22 with a capacity of 450,000 TEUs — providing much needed capacity amid projection of a demand of two million TEUs over the next five years.
“In tandem with the projected demand, the port capacity to handle containers is therefore expected to grow from the current 1.85 million TEUs to 2.75 million TEUs” Mr Salim said.
Dar port competition
Expansion of the Mombasa port is crucial to serving landlocked countries including Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially to handle increased importation of commodities like steel. The facility had been losing market share to neighbouring Dar es Salaam port due to congestion.
In 2019, the Mombasa port’s overall throughput rose to 34.44 million tonnes in 2019, up from 30.92 million the previous year, marking a growth of 11.4 per cent. Total transit throughput also posted a growth of 3.6 per cent to 9.95 million tonnes in 2019 with Uganda maintaining its dominance in this segment, controlling 23.6 per cent of the total port throughput and 81.8 per cent of the total transit traffic.
The performance was supported by improved efficiency and speedy evacuation of cargo on the standard gauge railway(SGR) to the ICD in Nairobi.
Data by KPA showed that in 2019, the ICD in Nairobi handled 418,830 TEUs, representing a 62.4 per cent growth compared to 257,972 in 2018. In the same period, 4,225 trains were handled at the ICD, consisting of 2,668 import trains and 1,587 export ones.
“The SGR operations have greatly helped in driving cargo uptake, decongesting the port of Mombasa, reducing transit times for freight transportation and enhancing security of transit cargo,” KPA said.
Latest data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows that the volume of goods hauled by trains on the SGR remained stable in the first half of the year, boosting earnings despite economic disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
About 1.98 million tonnes of cargo was carried on the SGR between January and June, a slight decline from the 2.20 million tonnes moved in a similar period of 2019.
Earnings from cargo services on the SGR were steady in the six months to June, hitting Sh5.53million compared to the Sh5.63 million netted in a similar period of last year.
Most of the cargo, 1.05 million tonnes, was moved between April and June — coinciding with a strong demand for medical supplies and food grain after the government imposed a lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Besides expanding the port of Mombasa, Kenya is also constructing a second major gateway in Lamu, North of Mombasa, with a capacity of 23 million tonnes per year.
“The first berth at the Port of Lamu is complete and ready for commissioning, while the construction of the other two berths is progressing well at 76 per cent and expected to be operational by the end of 2020,” Mr Salim said.
The country’s second commercial port will be dredged to a depth of 17.5 metres to handle larger vessels and provide an alternative transport corridor in the country for shipping lines.
The construction of the Sh300 billion Lamu port as part of the larger Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport project is expected to help open up transport around the Lamu archipelago.
The project entails construction of a new sea port at Manda as well as SGR lines from Lamu to South Sudan with branches to Nairobi and Ethiopia from a hub in Isiolo.
It will entail the construction of a highway from Lamu to Isiolo with an extension to Nadapal/Nakodok in South Sudan and another link to Addis Ababa through Moyale.
The KPA is also expanding a minor harbour in Shimoni to cater for rising coastal trade volumes with destinations such Pemba Island and Zanzibar.
The port is primed to serve as an industrial fishing facility.
Shimoni with a current capacity of about 10,000 tonnes is the largest harbour of all coastal small ports including Funzi, Kilifi, Kiunga, Lamu, Malindi, Mtwapa and Vanga.
The current facility in Shimoni was originally a fisheries jetty built by the government and acts as the only port used for community transportation including tourism, fishing and trade.
The government is further building the new Kipevu Oil Terminal to cater for bulk handling of liquid products.
The new facility is designed to accommodate larger vessels of about 200,000 Dead Weight Tonnage and will also be equipped to handle liquefied petroleum gas.