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Will animal exports save Lamu Port from free fall?

Shipping & Logistics
 A crane offloads a container from Seago Piraeus Cargo Ship at Lamu Port. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

On Tuesday, a consignment of 15,600 livestock was exported from Kenya to Oman through Lamu Port.

The livestock was ferried aboard the MV Banyas I from berth one of the port.

Lamu Port is slowly turning to livestock exports to boost its dwindling fortunes that have seen ship traffic and business fall. So far, only 13 ships have docked at the port.

The port has handled 1,821 twenty-foot container equivalent units (TEUs) and 213 tonnes of conventional cargo.

State agencies are fast-tracking plans to establish a livestock berth on 20 acres at the port at about Sh500 million and a 30,000-acre disease free zone at Baragoi.

Lamu Port operations manager Peter Masinde said a multi-agency team was working to make the port an export hub for animals.

Also to be set up is a livestock laboratory at Witu in Lamu County. Hay and water sourced locally were first loaded onto the ship before the animals headed to Omani slaughter houses.

The animals, which were mostly sourced from Northern Kenya were screened at the Magogoni area in Hindi, eight kilometres from the port.

Currently, the port has three berths built at a cost of Sh40 billion. The government plans to build a total of 32 berths with a plan to make the facility a major transshipment port in the region.

The berths are 17.5 metres deep at low tides and 400 metres long and have wide yards.

Mr Masinde said that there has been increased interest in livestock from Kenya by buyers in Oman and United Arab Emirates.

He urged local farmers to produce hay that will be used to feed the animals during the long voyages.

Shipping companies are also pushing for the establishment of a desalination plant near Lamu Port to supply water to ships.

Masinde said fresh produce such as avocado will soon be part of exports through the port.

He revealed that 40,000 tonnes of coal from East Europe and another 40,000 tonnes from Tanzania will soon be blended in Lamu and exported to Western Europe, raising the port's business profile.

"Lamu Port is not in competition with Mombasa port; it is complementing it. We are soon going to handle fresh produce and other cargo. We expect to handle fish exports when too," he stressed.

It is a major relief for farmers in Northern Kenya after Al Bashayer Company of Oman started buying livestock from the region amid biting drought.

The firm is making its first export through Lamu Port. It has made two others through Mombasa Port. The first two consignments were exported through the port of Mombasa.

Al Bashayer's International Trade Manager Jack Onyango said yesterday they have set base in Lamu because it is nearer to the port of Salalah in Oman. It takes a ship 36 hours less to sail from Lamu Port to Salalah compared to sailing from Mombasa Port.

There is also a vast hinterland in Lamu that can be used to hold animals before export. Onyango said Lamu port has bigger space and the animal holding grounds is also nearer.

Speaking during the screening of the animals at Magogoni in Lamu, Onyango said there will be a monthly export of animals to Oman. Later, it will be increased to twice a month.

Health inspection

A visit to the holding ground in Hindi area located eight kilometres from the Lamu Port established that the animals had undergone health inspection by a team of veterinarians from Oman and Kenya.

The foreign inspectors were headed by Omani government veterinarian Dr Shihab Albulush.

Albulush explained that all the animals were male because they are meant for slaughter; females are left out for reproduction.

He also said that the animals are vaccinated for various diseases and quarantined before they are herded to the ship.

Onyango said Lamu Governor Issa Timamy has promised to set up a livestock market where farmers in the Northern Region will sell their animals.

Onyango said the Omani firm has bought 100 tonnes of hay to feed the animals during the voyage expected to last between eight and 12 days.

The ship agent, Norske Shipping Agencies Managing Director Charles Egohe, said the voyage from Lamu to Oman takes eight days when the sea is calm and 12 days when waters are rough.

Egoha Lamu Port has good animal holding grounds and wide berths unlike Mombasa port where his agency also handled animal export logistics in the past and witnessed some of them die because of delays.

"The livestock officers have to inspect all the animals to ascertain their health status. We want to ensure that we export only healthy animals," he said.

MV Banyas 1 can carry upto 20,000 animals.

He noted that the animals being exported are not those that are starving in northern Kenya.

"Despite the drought, the country has enough healthy animals that can be exported. There is a big market for live animals in the Middle East. The consumers there prefer slaughtering the animals themselves," he said.

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