Idle for 3 years, Sh1b terminal receives first ship

Passengers disembark from a cruise ship. [File, Standard]

After lying idle at Mombasa Port three years after its completion, Kenya's Sh1.3 billion modern cruise ship terminal received its first ship on Monday.

The World Odyssey, a cruise liner, docked at the terminal carrying 800 passengers to be welcomed by Tourism Cabinet Secretary Penina Malonza and Kenya Ports Authority acting Managing Director John Mwangemi.

Construction of the terminal started in 2016. It was completed in 2019. The government had planned to attract and boost international tourism to the coastal resorts through the terminal.

The terminal features a three-story building and has similar facilities like at the airports such as duty-free shops, lounges, restaurants and conference facilities and officials including port health, logistics and immigration.

It has similar facilities us airports.

KPA has blamed the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic for the idleness that hit the terminal for three years.

Kenya Coast Tourist Association (KCTA) Chief Executive Officer Julius Owino said with the full operationisation of the cruise terminal at berth number 1, government agencies should strive to ensure that the Port of Mombasa is well marketed to attract more cruise ships.

''We are now in the same league as the world's leading cruise ports in the US and around the Mediterranean ocean waters," said Mr Owino.

"We can also compete with the Caribbean Islands and Australian cruise ports. What is key here is to ensure that the port is well marketed in the region and abroad.''

International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Mombasa Port Ship Inspector Betty Makena said there was great potential in turning around the fortunes of Mombasa Port with a modern cruise terminal in place. ''International cruise liners like the MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Seabourne Cruises, Vikings, Apollo Group and Princess Cruises are recruiting Kenyan crew to work aboard their ocean going vessels," she said.

"It will be prudent for government agencies and authorities to seek to attract these cruise liners to make port calls in Mombasa which is renowned for its tourism attractions.''

Ms Malonza expressed her delight at the prospect of Kenya having a dedicated cruise terminal and pledged that the ministry will work with stakeholders to ensure the port of Mombasa is marketed aggressively as a cruise port of choice to allow international cruise liners to dock.

It was also the first time that passengers were using the new passenger lobby to access Mombasa city . "The arrival of this vessel today signifies the start of a journey to full tourism recovery," she said.

"We are set to go and are looking forward to having more cruise ships call at the port of Mombasa as we eye full recovery of the sector that suffered a jolt as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.''

Malonza added that with Mombasa's alluring and attractive nature, the government is keen to open both Mombasa and Nairobi for city tours; this means visitors can sample attractions in scenic places place especially tourists arriving aboard cruise ships.

She said the fact that World Odyssey will be making another round trip early next year should be encouraging for tourism industry players who want to cash into the cruise business.

The vessel has been at the port for four days. Its local handling agents, Seaforth Shipping Company, said it is expected to set sail to India after a week.

Captain Petros Poulakis, the vessel skipper, said he was happy to call at the Port of Mombasa which he described as a beautiful destination.

Kenya Tourism Board chairperson Joanne Mwangi, Yelbert acting Managing Director John Chirchir, Mombasa County Commissioner John Otieno were too present to witness the vessel dock and its passenger use the modern terminal facility.

Meanwhile, St Maarten in the Caribbean, a popular destination, last week reported the arrival of six mega cruise vessels and a record 15,000 people in a single day.

Cruise experts said the isle destination has seen a speedy recovery of tourism post-pandemic.

Players in the local tourism industry say despite a global pause in cruise operations owing to the pandemic, the arrival of passengers shows that destinations are fully recovering, and a resurgence is in the offing.

''It has been a difficult two years since the outbreak of the Covid -19 pandemic globally but these times seem to be behind us now,'' a local tour operator said.

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