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Hope for Lamu Port as cargo begins to trickle in

Shipping & Logistics
 Cargo being offloaded from the African Swan ship at Lamu Port. [Joackim Bwana, Standard]

It has taken two years since Lamu Port was launched for the first cargo that has landed on its docks to be transported through the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor.

The port was launched by former President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 20 2021. Lamu Port was meant to be the mouthpiece by which cargo would be fed into the Lapsset corridor.

However, the plan seemed to have hit a deadlock until Friday last week when the port received its first vessel with cargo wholly destined for the Lapsset corridor.

Earlier cargo consignments had to be brought to Mombasa and moved through the Northern Corridor served by the Port of Mombasa.

The cargo that arrived last week consists of food aid donated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and shipped into the country by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

The cargo was transported from Lamu Port through the Witu-Minjila-Hola-Garissa route to Isiolo, Kakuma and Dadaab.

This happens as the Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA) pushes for the completion of the multi-billion highway to connect Lamu Port and the hinterland that stretches to Northern Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

The port is planned to be expanded and its corridor extended to Doula in Cameroon. The port has started attracting major shipping companies.

Port authorities last week hinted that there were more investment opportunities underway. Lamu Port General Manager Vincent Sidai said the cargo ship brought a lot of excitement and benefits among the local communities.

He said yesterday that Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has received a number of inquiries from different institutions including USAID which are planning to dump the port of  Djibouti for Lamu in order to cut transport costs.

“Most of their costs are taken up by logistics. If they use Lamu port it will become much cheaper for them to distribute food within this region - Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and DRC Congo,” he said.

Mv Captain African Swan was laden with 7,286 metric tonnes of food from the US government. It became the 44th heavy bulk cargo ship to land in Lamu. 

The consignment comprised 64,589 bags of yellow split peas weighing 3,237 kilograms and 80,000 bags of sorghum weighing 4,009 kilograms. It made a six-day journey to Lamu Port from Djibouti.

The cargo attracted 300 trucks to deliver it to its final destination.

WFP Head of Chain Supplies Shane Prigge said the food will be distributed to the North Eastern counties of Turkana, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit Lodwar, Isiolo, Dadaab and Kamuma refugee camps.

He said the food donation was courtesy of USAID and that WFP has shown interest in using the Lamu Port to distribute food aid to Ethiopia once they handle the first cargo successfully.

Mr Prigge said it is the first time they have imported food aid through the port and promised that WFP will be using the port to distribute food aid to over 4.5 million people across the East African regions of South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The government has been working on the security challenge by forming escort groups. KeNHA has been handling the infrastructure development bit while KPA has been equipping Lamu Port. The first three births were built at a cost of Sh41 billion.

KPA and Lapsset Corridor Development Authority have also been on the marketing trail to win cargo shipowners to use Lamu as their transhipment port of choice.

Mr Sidai they expect bigger ships, adding that there are inquiries by cargo owners who want to ship in edible oil, bulk food and metal through Lamu.

Sidai said the Ethiopian government also has shown interest in using Lamu Port for importing fertilizer before moving it by road.

“The local community has supported us by providing the labour to do this job. If we could not have gotten labour here, we could have taken too long,” he said.

He said the trucks that were loaded at the port to transport the food along the Lapsset corridor also created business on their way up the hinterland; buying fuel, food, and accommodation.

Sidai urged more investors to go to Lamu. “We need hotels, shops and other commercial establishments to provide services to ships that dock here,” he said. 

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