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Cranes and forklifts: Lamu port's logistical nightmare

By Philip Mwakio | May 6th 2021
Geofrey Namadoa, a marine pilot at KPA

It is turning to be a voyage like no other. The giant ships, like the galleons of yore, are heaped with heavy cargo handling machines and moving at a snail's pace -a mere 8 knots.

They will take 22 hours to reach Lamu Port from Mombasa - a distance of 242 kilometres on water. The voyage begins next week. 

According to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), transporting the machines will be a logistical undertaking not seen on these shores. The equipment needs careful loading and offloading to avoid mishaps.

The equipment to be loaded onto a special and much bigger barge include two rubber tyred gantry cranes, each weighing 110 tonne, a mobile scanner truck belonging to Kenya Revenue Authority, forklifts, and two harbour mobile cranes, one weighs 450 tonnes, with a capacity to lift upto 100 tonnes.

Geofrey Namadoa, a marine pilot at KPA, is the man tasked with the logistics of ensuring the machines are safely delivered.

"We were ready to load today (Thursday) but after the list of equipment for the second batch was revised to include harbour mobile cranes, we had to shift the loading to next week and prepare a tighter logistical plan," Namadoa said.

Namadoa said the additional equipment is heavier and expensive and requires a lot of stability with loading calculations and procedures to be followed.

According to the Lamu Port Implementation Committee, the firm contracted to transport the cargo - Comarco Shipping has been seeking advice from its naval architect.

The total weight of the equipment is 1300 tonnes. "We shall be taking into consideration water tides to allow safe operation," Namadoa said.

During the voyage, the cargo is likely to encounter rough seas. This according to Namadoa, is because of the South East Monsoon winds whose speed keeps changing.

Lamu Port's dredged depth is 17.5 metres making it one of the deepest in Africa. According to KPA, more sophisticated Ship to Shore Gantry cranes will follow later. These will be delivered to Lamu Port directly from the overseas manufacturers.

Already KPA has deployed 80 workers who will work alongside some 100 youths recruited from Lamu to work as dockers and security marshalls at the port.

The new facility will start operations by June 15 this year.

Officials said that by May 20, most of the critical equipment to start port operations will have been transferred to Lamu port.

Two additional berths, each measuring 400 metres with a depth of 17.5 metres, will also be ready for operations by the end of the year.

"We have just received the equipment for yard operations.We will receive more equipment for ship operations at a later date. We will therefore commence operations on small-scale from May 20 throughout the year. Then from next year we can start full operations," said Abdulahi Samatar, General Manager Lamu Port. 

Last September, Comarco Shipping was contracted by KPA to transfer four Rubber Tyred Gantry (RTG) cranes from one section of Mombasa Port to another.

The process required careful planning with the timing of the tides and ballasting of the barge being handled expertly.

"Experienced staff will be transferred to Lamu to operate the equipment once it arrives," said Samatar.

The government has so far built the first three berths at Lamu port at a cost of Sh40 billion.

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