The Port of Mombasa is the largest in East Africa and provides direct connectivity to over 80 ports worldwide. Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has been at the helm since 1978 and has seen traffic increase at a rate faster than the global average. Here, Managing Director Gichiri Ndua talks about expansion, growth and the challenges that come with managing such a large facility.
In the first half of 2015 alone, the Port of Mombasa handled 13,212,379 tons of throughput – an 11% increase on the previous year that places Mombasa ahead of the 3.5% global average for port traffic growth. As impressive as this is, it has created a challenge in the form of additional pressure on its facilities. With berth occupancy now at 80%, swift expansion is key to the future of the Port of Mombasa, as well as the broader Kenyan economy.
“We can attribute this growth in cargo volume to the confidence that shipping lines have in the efficiency of the Port of Mombasa, particularly following the various development projects that we’ve put in place” says Ndua. “We now receive bigger ships and our transshipment traffic is growing.”
In fact, the port recently handled the largest vessel to ever visit the facility – and indeed, the only vessel with a 6000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) capacity to ever call on the East African coastline – the Maersk operated MV Clemence Schulte, a 255 meter-long container ship built in 2014.
This would not have been possible a few years back. On its mission to achieve World Class Seaports of Choice status, KPA began implementing the Mombasa Port Development Project (MPDP), a huge endeavor consisting of multiple plans with the ultimate goal to increase capacity among others.
“KPA is constructing a Second Container Terminal by reclaiming 100 hectares of land from the sea. The terminal is being put up in three phases. Phase one involves the construction of two berths, No.20 (220 metres quay length) and No.21 (350 metres quay length).” The first phase is currently 92% complete.
“It will have a capacity of 550,000 TEUs per year and will be operated by a private firm,” Ndua tells us. “The process of identifying the operator is in tender evaluation stages.”
“The government of Kenya came up with Vision 2030 — a development agenda with a vision of being a newly industrialized country by the year 2030,” he continues. “Consequently the Port of Mombasa was identified as an important catalyst in this vision and the Mombasa Port Development Project (MPDP) became a flagship part of Vision 2030.”
Given the scale of the port’s traffic, as well as its global reach, this should be no great surprise. As it stands, this means that KPA is a central point in the government’s plans boost to medium-term growth in what is now one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest growing economies.
As well as increased domestic demand, shipments to nearby landlocked countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are also on the rise.
This has meant that a host of new roads, railways and power projects – including transport links from Kenya to South Sudan and Ethiopia – will be built over the coming years, many of which are being funded by overseas investors. A second port in Lamu, north of Mombasa, is also under construction and, once completed, will have a capacity of 23 million tonnes per year. Compared to many global economies the outlook is very favourable indeed.
Earlier this year, a report from the World Bank estimated that Kenya will see growth increase by 6-7% by the end of 2017, compared to an increase of 5.4% in 2014. This was attributed to the planned infrastructure spending program as well as the benefits of continuingly low oil and gas prices.
“Kenya is emerging as one of Africa’s key growth centres with sound economic policies in place for future improvement,” it stated, adding that “the country’s fiscal expansion [has] allowed it to finance major infrastructure projects without putting excessive pressure on domestic financing”.
However in order to sustain this growth, it continued, Kenya must “boost productivity and improve the business environment to regain and increase its competitiveness”. In order to achieve this it called for the country to carry widespread business reforms, as well as completing work at the port of Mombasa, improving the efficiency of its massive infrastructural projects and strengthening governance”.
The scale of the MPDP program is impressive to say the least. This project is being funded largely by the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) – a body responsible for the overseas investments of the country’s government – and will see the port expanded to an annual capacity of 1.3 million twenty-foot containers.
So far, this work program has included dredging the channel to minus 15 metres and widening its turning basins to 300 metres at its narrowest points – all in aid of preparing the port for bigger vessels so that the region can reap the benefits of economies of scale.
Mombasa’s yards have been expanded too and exit and entry gates have been widened with additional lanes. Equipment has also been updated with Mombasa acquiring several new twin-lifting ship-to-shore cranes. A new versatile ICT program has been implemented backing increased ship turnaround time and an updated security system, the world-class Integrated Security System is now in operation at the port.
“Other port development projects included the construction of Berth No.19 to expand the container terminal by 240 metres quay. This was commissioned in August 2013 and the port immediately started to receive vessels of above 220 metres which has now become the common size,” Ndua tells us.
“MV Tia was 261 metres long but quite narrow in width with the capacity to handle 4500 TEUs. Maersk Cairo was 249 metres with a capacity of 5000 boxes and Maersk Clemence Schulte – our biggest visitor yet – was 255 metres long with a capacity of 6000 TEUs.
Another crucial part of the scheme is the construction of the planned US$346.2 million Dongo Kundu bypass, a road that will connect Mombasa’s mainland to the south coast by a bridge, reducing heavily congested freight and transport routes. For the port, this smoother flow will considerably improve connectivity, while it will also ease the burden of bottlenecks at the Likoni ferry. This is used by over 300,000 people and 5,000 vehicles each day, and has long been seen as challenge to the region’s growth.
“The Mombasa Port Development Project is one of the biggest single ODA projects in Japan’s history of economic cooperation with Kenya. Development of the Mombasa Port is critical for the coastal region and for Kenya to realise its long-term plan of the Vision 2030,” said Japan’s ambassador to Kenya, Toshihisa Takata, earlier this year. “We agreed with the government of Kenya that it was crucial to construct a link road that connects the new container terminal of the Mombasa port, with a northern corridor. We also agreed that a link road was necessary to connect to the Dongo Kundu area to enable the south coast of Mombasa to develop.”
With all this in mind, the challenges KPA faces at Mombasa make the port’s recent advances even more impressive. The presence of a number of cargo interveners, such as government agencies with conflicting mandates and objectives, mean that progress isn’t always as quick as KPA would like.
“We have Kenya Revenue Authority whose main agenda is to maximize tax collection irrespective of whether it will slow down trade or not” says Ndua. “Then we have the private sector bodies including Clearing and Forwarding Agents; Ships Agents; Transporters; and Container Freight Stations (CFSs).”
Recently, it emerged that the local Mombasa government is pushing to increase taxes for branded containers and vehicles leaving the port, raising the fees by US$97 and US$29 respectively. Currently, these rates already stand at $293 and US$117. Other charges such as for tonnage and inspection have also been increased.
There are other difficulties, too. A number of agencies are often slow in embracing IT, Ndua adds, whereas KPA has been going paperless for a while now. Due to this, communication is not as efficient as it could be.
Meanwhile off-take of cargo is slow due to the quality of the transport network.
“Off-take of cargo is slow. The rail handles less than 5% of the cargo that moves out of the port, while the rest relies on road trucks. This leads to traffic snarl-up, especially with our underdeveloped road network,” Ndua explains. At the same time, the company has been forced to lay off some members of staff due to concerns that their academic qualifications had been forged.
These issues aside, the future is looking bright for the Authority. Phase two of the expansion is underway, with KPA in the process of identifying an operator. The winning bidder will operate 51% of berths 20 and 21, with local investors taking up the remaining 49%.
This, it is hoped, will cement Mombasa’s position as East Africa’s leading port, particularly at a time of increased competition due to major investments in port infrastructure over in Tanzania and Djibouti.
Interest in the tender has been strong too, with 12 firms shortlisted earlier this year. These include international names such as APM Terminals, DP World, China Merchant Holdings, and Cosco Pacific, along with joint ventures between Toyota Tsusho Corporation and Grup TCB and Mitsubishi Corporation and Freight Forwarders Kenya.
The first phase project is also well ahead of schedule, with KPA saying earlier this year that it will be commissioned by November rather than its original March 2016 deadline. The tender of a new oil jetty, which will be able to handle as many as four vessels at a time, is also set to take place in the fourth quarter of this year.
In the meantime, KPA’s drive for efficiency is also bearing fruit. According to a recent report by Kenya’s Standard newspaper, costs for traders at Mombasa has dropped by half over the past decade due to the company modernization program, as well as increased capacity.
“The cost of freight has dropped drastically in the last ten years,” said Juma Tellah, chief executive of the Kenya Ships Agents Association. “We used to pay an average of Sh450,000 to transport a 40 foot container from Europe to Mombasa but currently it costs Sh250,000. A 40 foot container of tea from Mombasa to Karachi currently costs Sh45000 or Sh40000.”
Much of this, he added, was due to an increase in offloading and loading of cargo, as well as a significant fall in the time importers use to clear their freight at the port.
Back in August KPA said that between 2013 and 2014, the “dwell time” – the average time a container stays in port between the time it lands at quayside and exits at the gate – had fallen by a day, to 3.9 days. Meanwhile the average turnaround time remained the same at 3.5 days from 2013 to 2014, despite a significant jump in activity. These figures compare favourably to Europe’s major ports, where dwell times are typically less than a week. For other sub-Saharan countries though these number are much, much higher, with vessels usually confined at port for 19 days in Douala, Cameroon, and 20 in Tema, Ghana.
Still, the company is hoping improve further. Yet, says Ndua, its progress should not just be measured in terms of capacity and throughput.
“Last year we handled a record one million TEUs and this year we are set to handle 1.2 million TEUs,” he continues. “At the same time though we are continuing to improve our services to customers, grow business and enrich lives in the region, which is just as important.”