The Port of Mombasa recorded a 2.1 per cent decline in container traffic in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year. This casts doubts on the goal of attaining a 35.9 million tonnes total throughput and 1.49 million twenty foot equivalent units (TEUs) target in 2020 as stated in the Kenya Ports Authority’s Master Plan.
In a report released last week by the Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Co-ordination Authority, the Covid-19 pandemic was cited as the reason behind the drop from 110,790 TEUs handled in February 2019 to 108,958 TEUs recorded in February this year.
China, which was the first to report Covid-19 cases, is among the top trading partners with Kenya and contributes 29.2 per cent of the full import containers or 9.9 per cent of the total cargo throughput handled in Mombasa as per 2019 port statistics.
Big container liners from China and several bulk carriers cancelled their normal calls in the first quarter due to the virus. Exports were also curtailed due to restrictions in Europe, USA and other export markets in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.
The report titled, Mombasa Port and Northern Corridor Community Charter analysis report on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on port performance and productivity, said that the volume of cargo handled at the Inland Container Depot Nairobi (ICDN) declined from 31,516 TEUs recorded in March 2019 to 26,200 TEUs this year.
The report added that the overall ship turnaround increased from 3.2 days in February 2019 to 3.6 days in March due to delays at the port caused by a lean workforce and shorter working hours due to a nationwide curfew.
Despite fewer vessels calling at the port, the Covid-19 pandemic led to stringent measures introduced to protect dock workers and increased the documentation process as vessels waited to be cleared.
The cargo dwell time for transit goods was compounded by shortages of the Regional Electronic Tracking Systems (RECTS) affixed on transit containers by Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).
Transporters were taking up to four days in the port waiting for RECTS, which increased truck turnaround time from 8.7 hours to 11.7 hours.