Shipping firms push KPA to hire more dock hands

Mv Pate tugboat docking at the Port of Mombasa. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Shipping lines have raised concern over shortage of workers and pilots which they say has negatively affected cargo operations at Mombasa Port.

Kenya Ships Agents Association (KSAA), the lobby that represents shipping lines, has written to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) claiming that there has been a shortage of workers even after the authority employed 200 dockworkers recently.

However, KPA management says that there is no delay of ships that has been reported and operations are smooth after the employment and training of the new 200 dockers.

According to KPA, no ship has been kept waiting for more than 12 hours at the port in the last three years and there are currently adequate workers in all operational areas.

KSAA chief executive officer Juma Tellah wrote to the KPA acting managing director John Mwangemi last month demanding that the situation be addressed urgently.

Additionally, Mr Tellah said that ships have been drifting in the sea despite available berthing facilities due to a shortage of pilots.

In the letter dated October 4 this year, Tellah said members of the association have been experiencing a labour shortage which is an essential factor in determining vessel operational efficiency in any port.

He said labour shortages have been experienced particularly at the conventional cargo berths where few workers are provided as opposed to the requested number, which negatively affects cargo operations.

"Recently, we were assured of adequate labour after the deployment of two hundred stevedores, but this is yet to improve the situation," said Tellah

"Additionally, of late, ships have been drifting in the sea despite available berthing facilities due to shortage of pilots."

He continued: "These challenges are inflating vessel operating costs and making Mombasa Port expensive. It is important to note that many ports are implementing fixed berthing window programmes to improve port efficiency."

KPA principal public relations officer Hajji Masemo said there was no shortage of labour at the port after the authority employed 200 dockers at around June this year.

He however said the new dockers had to undergo training before their deployment, adding that they were now working normally.

He explained that the port usually experiences a surge in ship arrivals from around July to December every year noting that the labour gangs were currently coping with the situation.

"There is no delay of ships or cargo operational challenges at the port after the employment of additional 200 dockers. However it is normal for increased ship arrivals at the port from around July to December," he explained.

But in the letter, Tellah said something must be done urgently to address the issues raised. "We are also alarmed by the directive from Dock Workers Union of October 2, 2022, directing their members to strictly avoid working over and above the 30 per cent ceiling, lest they will fail to be paid for extra overtime worked and the union will not take any responsibility for any claims lodged," he noted.

Last month, Dock Workers Union general secretary Simon Sang warned that his 4,000 members must be paid for any extra hours worked or they will shun overtime.