The oil boom breathing new life into Kisumu Port

MT Harambe, a ship capable of carrying 750,000 litres of oil, is guided into Lake Victoria. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

When the government started rehabilitating Kisumu Port, there were those who dismissed the initiative as a political stunt meant to appease the region after the 2017 post-poll chaos.

However, like a lily sprouting from a stubborn mound, life is slowly engulfing the rehabilitated port.

All thanks to the litres of oil being exported to neighbouring countries through the port.

According to Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), although the port is yet to be officially opened, oil trade has already picked up with more than 29 million litres of oil exported to Uganda in the last one year.

The development has seen Uganda introduce another vessel, MV Kahawa, to complement the efforts of the 4-tonne MV Uhuru which has been hauling oil products to Jinja, Uganda. Demand for oil in the region stands at 5 billion litres per annum.

Statistics by Kenya Pipeline Company indicate that the Kisumu depot supplies 1.2 billion litres per annum.

Kisumu Port was meant to boost the once vibrant triangular trade involving Kisumu, Jinja in Uganda and Mwanza in Tanzania.

Although refined petroleum is the third-largest export product after tea and cut flowers, the country’s grip on the regional market had been shaken by Tanzania’s Central Corridor.

When Shipping and Logistics visited the port last week, a train pulling several wagons of oil from the Kenya Pipeline depot was offloading the product into a waiting ship destined for Uganda.

Trains were reintroduced after Kenya Railways revived the line connecting Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) to the Port.

Those interviewed said the revival of the oil trade has created jobs. KPC has been relying on both MV Uhuru and MV Kahawa to haul the product to neighboring countries with each vessel carrying 22 wagons with a capacity of 1.1 million litres.

A senior KPC official told Shipping and Logistics that the two vessels have been making four trips each month; frequency is expected to increase in the coming weeks.

“The oil voyages increased from an average of two per month to four,” said the official.

The move signals a return to maritime trade over the lake and the prospects of transforming Kisumu into a regional commercial hub.

The government is racing against time to operationalise the Sh1.7 billion oil jetty.

The KPC official said despite delays by Uganda to complete its own jetty, the government is optimistic that the Kenyan facility will start running soon.

In 2017, the governments of Uganda and Kenya agreed to build oil jetties; Kenya was to build a delivery jetty whereas Uganda was to put up a receiving one.

KPC started construction of the Kisumu Jetty in 2017 which was completed in February 2018.

“The Ugandan oil jetty is incomplete. The delay in completion has an impact on us because we are not able to utilise our jetty; we have an idle asset for now,” said KPC in a statement.

The jetty, according to KPC, will improve efficiency by reducing the time for transporting oil to Uganda, which will lead to reduced costs.

A senior official who asked not to be named said the company is also fast-tracking plans to ferry oil products to towns in the region including Kendu Bay, Homa Bay, Mbita and Busia.

The fresh developments offer new hope for the region as the government continues its quest to expand the port.

Kenya Ports Authority, driven by the promise held by the jetty, has also refurbished and modernised the Kisumu Port slipway.

In his last visit to Nyanza, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the port would be integral in transporting oil products to neighbouring countries with ease.

Uhuru said the revival of the project will reduce the time tankers take to ferry fuel to Uganda.

“To transport fuel by road from Kisumu to Uganda takes 72 hours because of the long queues at the Malaba border,” said Uhuru.

“But to transport fuel from the Port of Kisumu to Port Bell in Uganda by ship takes only 12 hours.”

He said that since its reintroduction, MV Uhuru has ferried about 30 million litres of fuel to Uganda. MV Uhuru has 22 wagons, all with a capacity of 60, 000 litres.

The ship ferries 1.1 million litres of fuel each trip. A new vessel being constructed by Kenya Navy is also expected to ferry almost a similar amount of fuel.

The port in Mwanza has been active all the time Kisumu Port was lying idle. This has given Tanzania an advantage over Kenya. At the same time, most countries in the region prefer using Mwanza because the distance they cover is shorter compared to Kisumu.

The vessels are expected to hand Kenya an upper hand and reawaken her to position herself in serving landlocked countries in the Great Lakes Region.

Uhuru said such developments will multiply the volume of fuel being taken to neighboring countries.

“If the ship accommodates 22 wagons each voyage it makes to Port Bel, that is equivalent to a convoy of 66 tankers headed to Uganda,” said Uhuru.

The two Kenyan ships however face competition from the Ugandan vessel, MV Kahawa

Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Kisumu Branch Chairperson Israel Agina lauded the developments at the port, saying they will create employment.

“The port will improve the region’s blue economy,” said Mr Agina.

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