It is taking more than 10 days for some ships to offload containers at the port of Mombasa, a period considered long enough to justify introduction of a Vessel Delay Surcharge (VDS) charged by shipping lines to offset the extra costs.
Should the surcharges be effected it would result in Kenyans paying more for imported goods.
Kenya Ship Agents Association, which represents lines operating in Mombasa, has written to the Kenya Ports Authority asking the authority to address the problem of delays, failure to which the surcharge will be introduced, the association’s executive officer, Mr Juma Tellah, said.
“Vessels that do not have cranes mounted on them have to wait for up to seven days for the berths,” Mr Tellah said.
The delays are caused by several factors, some of them unlikely to be addressed until the port creates extra capacity to handle the growing cargo volumes.
Berth 18 is undergoing major repairs, reducing the available berths for containers to two, the port’s communication manager Bernard Osero said.
According to the shipping association, the productivity at the general cargo berths is very poor, with ships offloading only 6.5 containers per hour, which is far below KPA target of 25 per hour.
The recent breakdown of the Kenya Revenue Authority cargo clearing system and the introduction of the weighbridge at the container exit gate exacerbated the problem and has created a backlog of containers at the yard.
Due to the fear of paying overloading fines, transporters have been delivering one 20 ft container per trip since Kenya National Highway Authority erected a mobile weighbridge at Gate 18.
This has created another huge backlog of containers at the yard. Last week, the Kenya Revenue Authority sent 18 members of staff to the container release point to help clear the backlog.
When the yard is congested, it affects the speed at which ships are offloaded, port operations manager Joseph Atonga said.
This is peak season at the port. There has been an increase in the amount of cargo, with three to five ships arriving every day since last month, Mr Atonga said.
Mr Gilbert Langat of the Kenya Shippers Council blames the problems on poor planning. KPA, he said, was informed of the vessels’ arrival 14 days in advance and should have made adequate preparations.
The shippers’ council, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the KPA management plan to scrutinise the level of service at a forthcoming meeting.
If the problems will not be addressed, the shippers will move to court, according to Mr Langat.
Maritime experts say that congestion at the port, which is this year expected to surpass the facility’s 20-million-tonne capacity, may get worse when the port starts working on the planned expansion.