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Port dredger unveiled by Raila still lying idle

By Kepher Otieno | August 21st 2019

A 70-metre long dredger after it docked at Kisumu port on January 17, 2019, a day before it was commissioned by Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

A multi-million shilling dredging machine unveiled as part of the ongoing Kisumu port expansion is lying idle, seven months after it was commissioned by ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The de-silting exercise is set to cost Sh500 million out of the Sh3 billion allocated for the port upgrade.

The 70-metre long and 4,000-tonne dredger was leased from a Uganda-based Chinese firm – The Mango Tree Group – to desilt the port.

The port was to be opened last Thursday but the event was postponed at the eleventh hour, with sources attributing it to a clash in the diaries of the other East African Heads of State who were expected at the launch.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was expected to lead six other presidents during the official launch of the project, which for decades has been lying idle.

The Standard learnt that the dredger cannot be put to use because of a delay in signing a substantive agreement with the Government.

Shipping experts say the Kisumu port, currently undergoing a Sh3 billion expansion, is heavily silted, and may not be ready to accommodate cargo and passenger ferries until it is dredged.

Dredging is an excavation activity usually carried out underwater to remove sand, silt, mud, rocks, weeds and rubbish among others to create routes for big vessels. 

The Mango Tree Group investors were also to ship in water hyacinth harvesters to help remove or harvest the noxious weed.

But The Standard has established that although the refurbishment of the port to pave way for grand opening is almost complete, dredging work has not started.

A source at the Kenya Ports Authority, who requested not to be named because he is not authorised to discuss ongoing works at the port, said the delay in signing the contract could be because the dredger was brought in before some discussions were concluded.

"I think it may have been brought in a hurry but it is being addressed," said the official.

Mango Tree Managing Director Shu Chu Fan confirmed they were yet to start work  because they were still pursuing an official contract with the Government.

The dredging vessel is now docked at Kisumu Port's landing site along the Lake Victoria shore.

In an earlier interview during the unveiling of the dredger, John Wanga, head of inland waterways at KPA, said they were expecting the Mango Tree investors to dredge up to six metres and also cover 63 kilometres of the lake.

Over the past two decades, it has not been possible for large vessels or ships to dock at the Kisumu port because the berthing bay was too shallow for navigation.

This is why Nyanza leaders were keen on dredging the lake with a trailing suction hopper dredge, which was brought to Kisumu Port and launched by Raila seven months ago.

Wanga had told Raila that dredging would open up Mbita pier, Homa Bay pier, Asembo Bay and Mfangano pier, and Sio Port as well.

Sources at Transport ministry confided to us that Kenya Navy personnel were doing a survey to establish the extent to which the lake needs to be dredged.

Contract issue

Sources privy to the port developments disclosed to The Standard that Mango Tree investors may have hurriedly brought in the dredger before signing actual contract.

Mango Tree administrator Frank Nenard said during the launch that they were to wait for three months for the harvesting equipment to arrive from China to start work.

"Once the hyacinth harvesting equipment arrives, it will take us another 15 months to harvest the weed to dredge the lake and its harbours," said Mr Nenard.

He said to determine the quantity of muck and vegetation, they will also have to carry out a survey through the entire body of water to provide water depth information.

Yesterday, government officials overseeing the ongoing works at the port were not willing to discuss the delay in dredging the port.

It is understood that the Lake Region Economic Bloc played a major role in negotiating for the  dredger.

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