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Rising tide of shipments signals boom for Kenya's blue economy

Kenya Ports Authority gantry cranes offloading containers at the Port of Mombasa. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

In the last year, the government has made significant investments in infrastructure targeted to boost the fortunes of the blue economy.

The country has forayed into ship-making, launched Lamu Port and revamped Kisumu Port, all aimed at reaping more from the nascent sector.

This week, data from Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has pointed at good times ahead with the volume of shipments going through the Port of Kisumu hitting 94,000 tonnes since the port was rehabilitated a year ago. Volumes are expected to increase further before the end of the month.

A visit to the port by Shipping and Logistics revealed a hive of activity as exporters completed logistics to transport their products.

Outside the gates of the port, trucks waited to be allowed in to load transit cargo onto a ship. 

Several big companies have now turned their attention to the port as they export goods to Uganda. For instance, Bidco Oil and East Africa Breweries Ltd have been using the port to ferry goods to Uganda.

According to KPA, Bidco Oil will be exporting 50 containers of oil through the port. Bidco has been planting palm trees on a Ugandan island to increase cooking oil production. 

The consignment belonging to Bidco is expected to arrive at the port through the rehabilitated Kisumu-Nakuru railway line.

The increasing shipment also signals good business for the Kisumu-Nakuru railway line. The rail line was completed following the linking of the Metre Gauge Railway (MGR) and the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line at Naivasha.

KPA’s Operations Manager at Kisumu Port, Mwalimu Disi, told Shipping and Logistics that the high demand for exports has seen the number of voyages done by the country’s flagship hauler, MV Uhuru, increase. The vessel is making two voyages per week.

The ship has mainly been ferrying diesel to Uganda. Last year, it made 44 trips to Uganda.

“Sugar and beer are the main commodities being transported to Port Bell in Uganda through the Kisumu port,” said Disi.

KPA charges Sh2,000 per tonne of shipment compared to the Sh3,600 exporters pay truckers.

The return of lake transport has also shortened the time it takes to deliver goods to Uganda. The journey now takes 13 hours by ship whereas trucks take three days.

Road delays have worsened in the last few weeks as Uganda implements Covid-19 restriction measures on truck drivers, which has resulted in huge traffic congestion at the Malaba border crossing.

“We want to take advantage of the railway line so that some of the containers can be diverted to the port to help increase our volume of exports,” said Disi.

Another company that is also mulling plans to start using the port to export its goods is Bamburi Cement, which is targeting the Tanzanian market.

The company plans to export about 680 tonnes of cement daily to Mwanza, according to KPA.

William Ruto, the authority’s General Manager at the Kisumu Port, confirmed that the plans were underway and that other firms had also expressed interest in using the port.

“We have Bamburi Cement, which is also promising to export about 680 tonnes of cargo on a daily basis. We are keen to ensure that we make the port viable,” he said.

Should the plans bear fruit, it will mean that about 50 trucks will be offloading cargo at the port daily. Once Kenya Railways brings more locomotives, the cargo is expected to be transferred to the rail.

According to Kenya Railways, more locomotives are expected to arrive in March.

Buoyed by the prospects of the maritime trade becoming a huge success, Kenya and Uganda are in a race to construct ships to exploit the blue economy.

Uganda is building four ships with the first expected to make its maiden sail before the end of this month, while Kenya is also constructing a mega vessel dubbed MV Uhuru II with a capacity to haul 1,800 tonnes of cargo.

Government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna said the development being witnessed at the port highlights the commitment by the government to ensure that the blue economy is exploited.

“We are enhancing transport within the corridor. The government is also expanding road. Our goal is to ensure that we can easily transport goods to the port,” said Oguna.

He said the government has prioritised reviving the blue economy to help spur the country’s economic growth. The government is also optimistic that a successful Kisumu port will create numerous jobs directly and indirectly.