Kenya will have to wait until August to commission the $3 million new cruise ship terminal at the Mombasa port as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the global cruise industry.
The ultra-modern terminal, which was completed about two years ago, was built to attract more cruise lines and spur growth in the vital tourism industry which accounts for 4.4 percent of gross domestic product.
Preparing for voyages
The East African nation is the third largest travel and tourism destination in sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa and Nigeria.
“With the current government’s efforts to curb infections with numbers going down and compliance by the locals, we are optimistic to begin voyages by August when seasons begins,” said Haji Masemo, the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) Communication Officer.
Located at berth 1 at the Mombasa port, the terminal includes duty-free shops, restaurants, conference facilities and offices with a capacity to handle 2,000 passengers.
The terminal is supposed to position Kenya as a top cruise tourism destination and enable the country to compete with the likes of South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, Cape Verde and Zanzibar.
The Kenyan government believes that once it begins operations, the terminal will create close to 300 direct jobs and boost local industries, like the transport sector, hotels, restaurants and handicraft sellers.
Low Covid-19 vaccination uptake in East Africa has also contributed to the delayed resumption of cruise ship operations in the Indian Ocean as South Africa made its first cruise ship in November last year.
Resumption of operations
According to one of the region’s cruise ship local handling agent, Inchcape Shipping Limited, the resumption of cruise operations will be determined by the rate of vaccinations and other measures put in place to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Inchcape Shipping Operations Manager, Bwanaheri Lali, said once the voyages resume it will make a big difference in the East African port.
“Low vaccination rate in East Africa, and more so Kenya which determines cruise calendar, is delaying resumption of cruise ship business. But the Ministry of Health has promised to come up with cruise ship protocols to ensure the leisure travels resume,” he said.
“We expect to resume this year and already cruise ship companies have started booking to make call as government puts more efforts to improve vaccination rate and other plans to contain the virus.”
Mr Lali said the resumption of cruise ship operations will be a milestone for Kenya after more than two years of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The world’s largest family-owned cruise liner, MSC Cruises, has announced the resumption of its operations on the continent after various port states eased Covid-19 measures.
South Africa is the first country to enjoy travel from Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Cruises, which started in November 2021.
MSC said it will reconfirm the cruise schedule planned for the 2021/22 season and put out new cruising dates in due course as it plans a comeback on the continent.
“We now look forward to welcoming our South African guests on board in the near future for a wonderful holiday with a health and safety protocol that has led the way in the global cruise industry. We are delighted that the new measures will allow cruise ships to operate in line with national health protocols,” the company stated.
Various governments have issued cruise regulations where, among others, cruise ships crew must screen all passengers for Covid-19 symptoms when they embark, and also conduct antigen testing.
Screening will continue every time you enter an entertainment venue, or a dining room.
The regulations require that a passenger who shows any Covid-19 symptom be housed in a special isolation cabin, while contact tracing is initiated.
There will be similar screening any time you go ashore during a voyage, and again when you return to the ship.
Any excursions or embarkation must be staggered too, to keep social distancing measures, and may only happen outside of curfew.
Kenya plans to open its cruise ship terminal, which has been lying idle at the Port of Mombasa, with six cruise vessels that were expected to call last year cancelled due to the pandemic.
In an earlier interview, Kenya Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said plans are underway to introduce a home-based cruise ship operator which will diversify the country’s tourism offerings.
“We are working out modalities with cruise liners in Miami, South Florida, to have a cruise operator to be home-based to do the Indian Ocean circuit,” said Balala.
A recent survey carried out by Tourism and Transport Consult International on cruise tourist potential for Kenya showed that Mombasa could easily attract 140,000 passengers per year.
In 2015, Kenya earned the highest from the product after 10 cruise vessels carrying 6,000 tourists called at the port.
The Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) says tourist arrivals in Kenya’s coastal region in July 2017-June 2018 rose by double digits compared to the previous financial year, boosting total tourist arrivals into Kenya by 6.8 per cent to 1,488,370 up from 1,393,568 in 2016/2017.