Asian firms lead the pack among those that bid to rehabilitate and expand the Tanzania-based Mtwara port to a capacity of about 28 million tonnes of traffic annually, driven by the gas discoveries in the Mtwara and Lindi regions in the southeastern part of the country.
The bid, whose final selection is set for October, also attracted a local firm and others from the Netherlands.
“Several companies placed their bid but it has not been awarded yet,” Mtwara regional secretary, who is also the Tanzania Port Authority board member, Col (Rtd) Joseph Simbakalia, told The EastAfrican.
The Tanzanian government announced a year ago that it would invest $214 million in the upgrade and expansion of the harbour to international standards after signing an agreement with the Japanese government to conduct the preliminary survey.
Mtwara port manager Musiba Fikili said due to the influx of cargo in the region especially over the past two years as a result of gas drilling activities, the Mtwara port management has come up with a strategy to expand and improve services.
According to Mr Fikili, Tsh2.95 billion ($1.7 million) will be spent on improving port infrastructure.
“We will be undertaking two projects: One is the expansion and the other is the improvement of infrastructure and working equipment like cranes and tractors,” Mr Fikili.
He said they had acquired 263 hectares for expansion. This will see the port increase its capacity to berth seven ships from the current four. Presently, the yard can handle up to 1,000 containers measuring 20 feet each.
Mr Fikili said under the new plan, they have also acquired an additional 100 hectares to construct a free port zone and some 400 hectares have been earmarked for oil and gas processing activities.
Mtwara port currently handles 400,000 metric tonnes of imports and exports per annum. The port is mainly designed to handle conventional cargo.
Through this expansion, the Tanzania Ports Authority is seeking to fully capitalise on the massive discoveries of natural gas resources, estimated at over 50 trillion cubic feet.
Mtwara port is one of three major sea ports managed by Tanzania Ports Authority. The other two are Dar es Salaam and Tanga.
The deep water port at Mtwara was built between 1948 and 1954. Development of the deep water port was accompanied by railway construction from Mtwara and Nachingwea in the Lindi region.
With the failure of the groundnut scheme, the railway line fell into disuse and is now defunct. The port, however, continues to function but is underutilised.
Mark Mutayoba, an official at Mtwara port said traffic has increased in recent years and currently the port is handling cargo for the construction of the Dangote Cement factory, which is being built in the region. It will be East Africa’s largest cement factory and various cargo for the gas pipeline, and oil rigs.
Over the past six years, Mtwara port has registered a 23.9 per cent increase in cargo annually. Total cargo increased from 204,429 in 2012/2013 to 356,000 tonnes in 2013/2014.
Data from the port authority shows that 544 calls (vessels) mainly from China, Europe and Kenya arrived at the port last year, of which 459 were oil and gas cargo.