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Lamu port's impact on Mombasa harbour

By Patrick Beja | May 11th 2021
Ongoing construction section at the Lamu Port in Lamu County on Thursday May 6, 2021. The Port is said to be over 90 percent complete. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The port of Mombasa could be reduced to a feeder facility with the coming up of Lamu port, which is set to receive its first ship on May 20, this year.

The new port is set to offer South Sudan, the second biggest transit market for Mombasa port, an opportunity to directly transport cargo instead of going through Uganda.

Maersk, the biggest shipping and logistics firm in the world that controls over 35 per cent of cargo handled in Mombasa, has indicated interest to deploy its big ships to Lamu.

Trade experts say the shift in trade in favour of Lamu will eat into Mombasa port’s revenue and pile pressure on Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to cut its workforce.

South Sudan is the second-largest transit market for Mombasa after Uganda, accounting for over eight per cent of the total transit business that is now expected to shift to Lamu. 

Maersk East Africa Managing Director Carl Lorenz told The Standard that the shipping firm would deploy the first vessel to Lamu that will see the port start operations.

“Maersk is ready to bring the first ship to this port on May 20. The ship has its own cargo handling equipment on board,” Mr Lorenz announced during port stakeholders’ meeting chaired by National Treasury and Planning Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani.

Kenya Ships Agents Association (KSAA) vice-chairman and Managing Director of the Express Shipping Logistics East Africa Sylvester Kututa said Lamu will attract business because of its strategic location and the berths that can accommodate bigger vessels.

Lamu port has three berths measuring 400 metres and 17 metres deep compared to Mombasa, whose longest berth measures about 350 metres and the deepest is 15 metres. Currently, the first berth and its yard are complete while the other are about 90 per cent complete and are expected to be ready by end of October.

KPA head of Corporate Affairs Bernard Osero said Lamu will complement the Mombasa facility as it will handle a lot of transshipment cargo while the latter was built as an all-purpose port.

“Mombasa channel is restrictive to sizes of ships. It is always good to have an alternative port for strategic reasons. Lamu will not affect Mombasa negatively, but will instead complement it,” he argued, adding that it will open a new market as it will connect the Indian Ocean and Atlantic oceans when its corridors are finally extended to Cameroon in West Africa.

On the ongoing transfer of equipment and staff from Mombasa to Lamu, Osero said this was a short-term measure to operationalise the new facility as the hiring of workers for the new port and acquisition of equipment for the new facility was in progress.

“We have already recruited 100 staff from Lamu and they are undergoing training at the Kenya School of Government in Mombasa. But more experienced staff have to be transferred to Lamu on a temporary basis to train the new ones on the job,” Osero explained.

However, Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) is grappling with the headache of providing the requisite infrastructure for evacuation of cargo when the port opens next month.

Already, news of the docking of the first ship at the only berth at the port on May 20 is the talk of the town as locals hope to reap big from the facility and the upgraded roads.

Virginia Maina, who settled in Hindi area close to the port in 2012, said she has been fascinated by the rapid development of roads after the dreaded terror attack in June 2014.

“The tarmacking of the road from Garsen to Mokowe in Lamu County has opened up this place and there is an influx of people who have boosted businesses,” said the shopkeeper.

A food kiosk operator at Hindi, Abubakar Mohamed, said the construction of the port, upgrading of roads and the relative security has raised hope of Lamu becoming a paradise of sorts in coming years.

“We hope for a business boom between the development of modern roads and the scheduled opening of Lamu port. But we are asking the government not to relent on security,” said Mohamed.

While KPA has embarked on a crash programme to provide key equipment including cranes by June 15, this year, Kenha has been tasked to ensure a good road link for delivery of cargo from the port.  

Speaking during an inspection tour of roads in Lamu on Friday, KeNHA Director General Peter Mundinia said the agency was fast-tracking the construction of key roads and their spurs to facilitate the evacuation of cargo from the new port.

Mundinia noted that the 114km Garsen-Witu-Lamu road being constructed at a cost of Sh11 billion was 90 per cent complete.

Cargo from the Lamu port will have to be delivered by trucks through the remaining 10km of murram diversions lying between Witu and Hindi until the completion of that road in July this year.

“The diversions are in good condition and will serve the port until the contractor completes work in July,” he said.

Mobilise equipment

But Mr Mundinia observed that KeNHA was keen to deliver the Lapsset development projects measuring a total of 453km within one and a half years at a cost of Sh17.9 billion.

The contracts comprise 357km from Ijara to Garissa and 83km extension to Hulugho as well as a 113km spur road from Hindi-Budhei-Basuba-Kiunga to support the fishing industry and boost security.

The tender was awarded to China Communications Construction Company, the same firm that built the first three berths of Lamu recently.

“The contractor has already mobilised equipment and is on site,” said Mundinia, who led a team of engineers from KeNHA.

Mr Yatani said the government is set to build roads from the port to Isiolo to connect the road to Moyale, which was done recently.

“This port is a gold mine as it will open up Northern and Eastern Kenya. We are determined to operationalise this port and we need your support,” the CS said. The highways authority has since built 15km of the port link road at Sh3 billion.

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