Inside State's mega plan to revamp small lake ports

An aerial view of MV Uhuru, one of the ships plying Lake Victoria routes, docked at Kisumu Port. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

In the 1980s, jetties were at the centre of a vibrant lake transport. That was until late 1990s when jetties, especially along the shore of Lake Victoria, started falling into disrepair.

Most were destroyed by the swelling waters of the lake. However, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has come up with a new plan to refurbish them.

Shipping and Logistics has established that the plan to build small ports as well as revive the jetties is in top gear.

According to KPA Managing Director John Mwangemi, the agency intends to undertake dredging of several feeder ports at Lake Victoria and improve their infrastructure to pave way for a return of an efficient passenger vessel transport system in the lake.

Already, KPA engineers have completed a survey on several feeder ports that dot the lake on the Kenyan side; plans are underway to begin their upgrading.

Mr Mwangemi said in an interview that Kisumu Port, which will play a crucial role in the return of passenger vessels, has already had its quay wall and link span improved.

“KPA has surveyed the feeder ports that have the potential to spur lake transport especially passenger service within the lake region counties,” said Mwangemi.

“We will soon be starting the rehabilitation of some of the feeders to facilitate business and support Kisumu operations.”

Mwangemi explained that Kenya is keen to rope in Tanzania and Uganda in the plan to reintroduce passenger vessels in the lake.

“Before the end of the year, passenger vessel service from Kisumu to feeder ports will have been launched,” said Mwangemi.

Back in the 1980s, there was a vibrant passenger transport between Kisumu Port, feeder ports, Port Bell, Jinja in Uganda and Mwanza in Tanzania.

Giant ships, like MV Uhuru, Uganda’s MV Kahawa and Tanzania’s MV Umoja commanded lake transport especially by ferrying cargo.

It is that success that KPA envisions as the government intensifies its bid to exploit maritime trade and transport.

Cargo transport is already recording growth with KPA projecting about 100,000 tonnes of cargo to be handled by Kisumu Port annually.

Still, tough work awaits KPA in the rehabilitation of feeder ports. The roads leading to some of these ports are in a deplorable state while some of the jetties are submerged in the lake.

Among jetties that are completely submerged are the ones in Homa Bay, Mbita and Kendu; the Bondo one is partially submerged.

At the Kendu Bay pier, the road leading to the jetty as well as the pier itself are completely submerged.

Before the water levels rose, several players in the maritime industry had been looking forward to revamping transport in the lake, with both the private and public sectors showing enthusiasm for the blue economy.

A water bus company is among those that had introduced water buses to ply the new routes that had been idle for several years.

The Kenya Maritime Authority has also intensified patrols to ensure maritime safety is maintained.

According to maritime experts, Lake Victoria water levels have continued to rise. The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute said water has risen beyond two metres.

But an optimistic KPA said plans to revamp the feeder ports will go on despite the rising waters.

The agency said maritime transport must be revamped to rejuvenate the lake’s blue economy.

And as part of efforts to ensure there is a return to a vibrant passenger vessel transport, in a lake that has witnessed several fatal boat accidents, the agency has embarked on plans to improve navigational safety.

“We intend to invest in modern navigational aids to improve the safety of navigation as more vessels are expected to be calling at the port,” said Mwangemi.

Tom Guda, the national Beach Management Unit chairperson, said the project will open more shipping and logistics opportunities to feeder ports.

“The project will open the lake front. We are hopeful that it will kick off. Once it comes to fruition, we will be able to invest in eco-tourism and transport,” said Mr Guda.

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