Unlike other landlocked African countries, Kenya has a relatively easier time with international trade due to its access to the Indian Ocean. Ports in Kenya are critical to Kenya’s economic growth and well-being as well as of its neighbors. In fact, without these ports Kenya’s economic growth would come to a sudden halt, and landlocked African countries such as Uganda and Rwanda that rely on Kenya’s port to send and receive goods shipped using the Indian Ocean, would greatly suffer.


Kenya’s ports include Lamu, Malindi, Kilifi, Mtwapa, Kiunga, Shimoni, Funzi and Vanga. However, Mombasa Port being that it is fully developed with modern equipment is the principal port. Due to the strategic economic importance of these ports, specifically Mombasa Port, Kenya has taken steps to improve efficiency and constraints of capacity. Some of these steps include the construction of the Lamu port, which will be part of LAPPSET.

There is a variety of differences between Mombasa Port and Lamu Port, which is currently under construction. In fact upon completion, Lamu Port will not only be larger than the port of Mombasa, but the largest port in Africa. However, the two ports are not in competition with each other, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) says that the main aim of the Lamu port construction is to ease efficiency and improve on capacity, as Mombasa Port is currently struggling to keep up with growing imports and exports.

Presently, Mombasa Port is the largest port in East Africa and the main gateway for the import and export of goods in Kenya. Even though Lamu Port promises to replace Mombasa Port as the principal Kenya seaport in Kenya, Mombasa Port remains the main gateway to Eastern African countries, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, South Sudan and Burundi. It is managed and operated by Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), a semi-autonomous government owned entity. On the northern side of Mombasa Island, the port comprises of Old Port and Port Tudor, and on the Eastern side of Mombasa Island, Port Reizt and Kalindini Harbor.

Kilindini Harbour is Mombasa’s commercial port and its main harbour, where most of the shipping activities take place. The port is capable of handling various types of cargo including; passengers, containers, general cargo, liquid and dry cargo. The harbour has 19 deep-water berths, which means that the port of Mombasa can handle 19 ships at a go. Berths 1 to 12 are general cargo berths and typically handle loose cargo, steel products, bagged cargo and such. However, berth 1 and 2 are also designated cruise ship berths and can accommodate cruise ships of up to 300 meters length and 9.75 meters draft. Berths 13, 14, 15 are used as container berths but do not have gantry cranes, which means ships have to use their own cranes. Then, berths 16, 17, 18 and 19 form the container terminal; they form a 600-meter pier length and a draft of 10.36 meters.

It also has two oil terminals ranging between 9.75 and 13.25 meters that are filled with crude oils. One of the two oil terminals is Kipevu Oil Terminal (Port Reitz area) which is designed to accommodate crude oil tankers up to 100,000 Dead Weight Ton (DWT). The other oil terminal is Shimanzi Oil Terminal can accommodate 30,000 dwt.

The entrance from the sea into Kilindini Harbour has an approach channel that is seven nautical miles long, 300 meters and can reach a maximum depth of 13.7 meters. There are safe anchorages within the harbour as well as mooring buoys for sea-going ships. 
Mombasa Port has grown over the years, which has led to congestion and a need for a second international port (Lamu). In 1975, the container volumes were at a mere 1,278 TEUs, however since then Mombasa port has grown exponentially in container volumes. In 2002, it recorded 305,427TEUs then 615,733 TEUs in 2008, 894,000TEUs in 2013 and finally in 2014 it hit a record of one million TEUs.

Nonetheless, KPA is ensuring that the port of Mombasa expands with the construction of a KES $366 million terminal. The first phase of the terminal expansion is expected to be completed by March 2016 and will give the port additional capacity of 450,000 TEUs. In addition, the second and third phases will be done by 2017 and 2020 respectively and add an additional 750,000 TEUs capacity. As a result, with the second terminal handling 1.2 million TUEs, by 2020 the whole of Port of Mombasa will have a capacity of 2.1 million TEUs. Thus, by the time the Lamu Port will be completed, the Port of Mombasa will be able to hold properly ‘complement’ capacity as Lamu Port.
The Lamu Port is part of Lamu Port Southern Sudan- Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), and the entire project is will include the port in Lamu, a standard-gauge railway line, oil pipelines, oil refinery, three airports and three resort locations in Isiolo and Lamu and at the shores of Lake Turkana.

The new Lamu Port will be the largest on the continent. It is expected to serve the East African Community(EAC), Ethiopia, the Central Africa Republic, Southern Sudan, DR Congo, Chad and Congo-Brazzaville. The port will have 32 deep water berths; 21 general cargo berths, 2 liquid bulk berths, 5 container berths and 4 bulk berths.  In addition to the berths, port will also have a draft of 18 meters and accommodate bigger ships of 100,000 tons and more.

There are several reasons behind the decision to build a second port (Lamu) in Kenya; however, the most important motive was to stop Kenya’s overreliance on the Mombasa Port. Over-reliance on one port no matter how much development it goes through could have future adverse effects on the economy. If anything were to go wrong with the Mombasa Port, Kenya would land itself into real trouble. Moreover, complete dependence of the Mombasa Port has led to its congestion, and although more terminals are added, eventually its capacity will be overwhelmed if there are no alternatives. It was in the best interest of Kenya, economically, to find an alternative sea entry and exit point. No matter how many terminals are added to the Mombasa port, the uncertainty that goes with relying on one port for an entire nation is dangerous. Most importantly is that purely concentrating on the Mombasa Port would not have led to the further development of other areas around Kenya.

Moreover, the decision to build the port in Lamu, not anywhere else along the shores of Kenya is due to Manda Bay’s features. Manda Bay has a deep natural sheltered harbour with a length of 10 meters, there is also a long shoreline (8km), there is also a deep and wide channel that has the potential of accommodating two ships coming from opposite directions at the same time. In addition, there is ample land immediately after the shoreline that makes infrastructure development simpler. Moreover, wind and current speeds complement berthing ships and fort operations. There is also the fact that Lamu’s location makes trading with South Sudan and Ethiopia facile. 

The ambitious Lamu Port will need expertise and commitment to be completed as planned. Following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s announcement that the construction of the first 3 births begin in march 2015, plans are being put in place to allow for smooth completion. Unlike the Mombasa Port, the President seems to be pushing for KMA to have more involvement in the project instead of KPA.
Despite the fact that Kenya is blessed with abundant and diverse maritime resources, which accounts for 92% of its international trade, the maritime sector are not, exploited enough. Thus, in order to develop this sector fully, the country should focus on creating opportunities for  KMA to build up this sector. Presently, KMA main function is to ensure maritime safety and security, promoting maritime training as well as preservation of marine environment and several others. However, since its inception in 2004, as a semi autonomous agency in charge of regulatory oversight, it has not had a large enough role in developing the maritime sector. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the role KMA plays is essential,  as an agency in charge of maintaining security and an abidance to regulations, it actually overlooks KPA activities. For one, KMA can co-ordinate and implement policies relating to maritime affairs, it can also enforce safety of shipping rules, and undertake investigation and surveys in the maritime field. Thus, though KPA does more of the ground work in term of port development and construction, KMA still plays a role as a regulator, enforcer and supervisor.

Although KPA is mostly the port operator of the Mombasa Port, the authority actually aims to maintain, improve and regulate all scheduled seaports along Kenya’s coastline, including Kiunga, Funzi, Malindi and others. Since 1978 when it was first established, KPA has accomplished many things, especially related to the modernization of the Mombasa Port. Some of these establishment including, steps to automate key port services, modernization of Port facilities to handle increased traffic, training of port security staff on maritime security, containing pollution by investing in equipments to manage oil spills, garbage and waste and many more. As KPA continues to improve the Mombasa Port, KMA needs to step up and establish itself as a vital contributor to the maritime sector. Unlike KPA, KMA was established quite recently, however, the Lamu Port is paving a path for KMA to take a bigger chunk in the exploration and exploitation of Kenya’s maritime resources.

The Ministry of the Transport and Infrastructure in partnership with the Kenya Maritime Authority organized the first ever National Maritime Conference 2015 last month to deliberate on opportunities for investments in the maritime sector and to develop an action plan for the KMA. During this conference, President Uhuru Kenyatta noted that KMA had a role to play in the development of the Lamu Port. Besides, training students on maritime operations, there is hope that KMA in partnership with KPA will seek a more active role in the Lamu project.

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