COVID-19: Business slightly affected at the Mombasa port

Container vessel Rio Centaurus at Berth No.21. at Kenya's Port of Mombasa. /Kenya Ports Authority

No cruise ships are docking at the port of Mombasa but the business has continued uninterrupted with cargo ships delivering goods from across the globe.

Container vessel Rio Centaurus at Berth No.21. at Kenya’s Port of Mombasa. /Kenya Ports Authority

The business at East Africa’s largest port is further buoyed by the resumption of flights and increased demand for jet fuel, after a six months suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic

“We’re now importing jet fuel, we’re seeing a little bit of growth on that side. In terms of bulk cargo and general cargo, it’s okay, we have not seen much drop, maybe 3 percent,” Captain William Ruto, the General Manager harbor operations master said.

According to Ruto, there is a steady rise in operations as compared to the last three months where general cargo and petroleum products slumped slightly.

“In terms of bulk cargo, that’s general cargo, we were not hit that much. The decline was less than 3 percent. In terms of container vessels calling, we had few blank sailings, that’s ships not calling on schedule which I can say on average from 2020 Feb. to Aug. we had about 6-8 percent.”

Data from the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) shows the Mombasa port’s overall throughput was 34.44 million tonnes in 2019 compared to 30.92 million the previous year. /Kenya Ports Authority

Data from the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) shows the Mombasa port’s overall throughput was 34.44 million tonnes in 2019 compared to 30.92 million the previous year, marking a growth of 11.4 percent.

Total transit throughput also posted a growth of 3.6 percent to 9.95 million tonnes in the same year.

Captain Ruto however submitted that during the six months of the pandemic, those results were slightly affected.

Mombasa’s port is crucial to serving landlocked countries including Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Figures from KPA indicate that, in the last financial year, Uganda, Kenya’s major client maintained its dominance in the transit goods passing through the port, controlling 23.6 percent of the total port throughput and 81.8 percent of the total transit traffic.

“The port of Mombasa is the gateway to East and Central Africa and an important facility for the landlocked countries. We handle about 30-33 percent of the total goods for the transit countries,” Captain Ruto adds.

The port further received a shot in the arm after the Kenyan government waived tax on the importation of maize. Maize is the staple food for most of the Eastern Africans.

“What is bringing the positive projection is, you are aware that the government granted a waiver for the importation of maize, so that is where we are getting a little bit more cargo compared to 2019,” Ruto said.

Expansion to beat competition from Tanzania


Despite its status regionally, KPA had over the years restricted the volume of transit cargo to avoid congestion due to limited handling and storage capacities at the port of Mombasa.

For several years, those restrictions impacted the port negatively where transshipment traffic had stagnated at less than one percent of the total cargo containers handled at the port.

Mombasa port is currently expanding to handle increased importation of other commodities like steel. The first phase of expansion is complete where a new container terminal and dredging to enable bigger vessel access to the facility were constructed.

The second phase is currently halfway complete and entails the construction of berth 22 with a capacity of 450,000  Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) — providing much-needed capacity amid projection of demand of two million, TEUs over the next five years.

Previously the facility had been losing market share to neighboring Dar es Salaam port due to congestion.

The Coronavirus impact on the movement of goods

Ships deliver cargo at the port but the remaining task is solely in the hands of truck drivers hauling those goods while crossing East and Central African countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented another challenge for the movement of goods from the port after health authorities developed protocols requiring truck drivers to be tested.

COVID-19 free certificate is a requirement for all truck drivers plying the region’s highways.

While talking to Standard newspaper in Mombasa, Kenya’s health ministry official, Dr. Rashid Aman explained, testing of truck drivers is very critical in this era of the pandemic but then this has hugely led to constant delays at key border crossing points in the region leading to overall cargo delays across borders.

Capt. Ruto concludes that one positive thing is that the port didn’t close at any given time and thee authorities only made sure that several measures were put into place to ensure that everybody was safe.

Efforts at the facility to control the spread of COVI-19 were boosted recently by donation of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) worth Ksh. 100 million/ $925,000 from the European Union (EU) through the Trademark East Africa (TMEA).