Lamu port signals good tidings despite slow growth


President Uhuru Kenyatta operationalizes the first berth of Lamu Port. [PSCU]

On May 20, 2021, history was made in the Coast region when the second commercial seaport opened its doors to international business.

The port raised hopes of creating jobs and other opportunities in the remote northern frontier county.

President Uhuru Kenyatta received the first two ships into Lamu Port when he inaugurated the facility expected to be bigger than Mombasa Port.

Container ships MV Cap Carmel and MV Seago Bremer Haven deployed by Maersk Line made their maiden visits to coincide with the inauguration of the first berth of the port expected to have a total of 32 berths.

With a depth of 18 metres compared to 12.5 metres for Mombasa Port, Lamu Port is expected to attract bigger ships and hence, enjoy economies of scale.

Each berth at Lamu Port measures up to 400 metres long with ample yard space surrounded by large tracts of land, giving it room for expansion of port-related infrastructure.

With two more berths now complete and a robust road infrastructure being laid out, Lamu Port has kept hopes alive that it will eventually bring much-needed economic opportunities and open up northern Kenya for development.

The three berths were constructed by China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) at a cost of Sh40 billion.

The port is being positioned as a trans-shipment hub targeting the Ethiopian and South Sudanese markets and smaller ports in the region.

But there is no boom yet. From its inauguration to November 30, 2021, Lamu port had received only eight ships.

According to data from the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), the port received MV Spirit of Dubai on July 19, MV Seago Pireaus on August 22, and MV Amu 1 on August 30.

It also handled Mv Seago Istanbul on September 16 and Ionlan Express on September 18. KPA principal public relations officer Hajj Masemo said the handling of the eight vessels was impressive for a port that had just started operations.

Cranes offloading containers from a vessel at the port of Lamu. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

“We also know that the port came at a time when the global economies are struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has adversely affected the shipping sector globally,” said Mr Masemo.

He said the port had potential for business because it was strategically placed and can accommodate some of the world’s biggest vessels for trans-shipment business linking East Africa to Europe and Asia.

“We believe that with the vigorous marketing efforts that we have put in place and with the support of our stakeholders, operations will improve as the world continues on a recovery path. Currently, all the three berths are complete, and plans are afoot to commission them for work,” he said.

Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) chief executive officer Dennis Ombok argued that the port would have to wait for roads to be complete and security beefed up before it starts registering growth.

“As truck owners, we are still waiting for cargo to come to Lamu Port. At the moment, Mombasa is still the preferred port because of its infrastructure. We are ready to move the cargo to whatever destination from Lamu,” said Ombok.

The government has built the 113.5km Garsen-Lamu road at Sh10.8 billion to serve the port.

In April 2021, the then Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) director-general Peter Mundinia signed an Sh17.9 billion contract with China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) to build 453km roads in the Lapsset corridor.

They included 257km stretching between Lamu Port and Garissa, 83km between Ijara and Hulugho and 113km between Hindi and Kiunga. They were to be completed within 36 months.

The port is part of the Lapsset projects and is expected to be the biggest port in Eastern and Central Africa.

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