Kenya is moving an inch closer to owning its fleet of vessels as it seeks to revive its shipping line that had looked dead even after launching it.
This week, President Uhuru Kenyatta showed that intent after commissioning the Kisumu Shipyard Ltd, and floatation of the MV Uhuru II. Once it’s fully up, that will form the first vessel under the Kenyan National Shipping Line.
The $240 million, 1,800-tonne vessel built by Kenya Defence Forces in partnership with the Dutch firm, Damen Shipyards, is still a rusty craft that will need final touches such as painting and retesting. The commissioning of the Kisumu shipyard less than a year after the launch of the Mombasa facility at the Kenya Navy Mtongwe base, in Mombasa, increases Kenya’s chances of competing with South Africa and Egypt in shipbuilding.
Plans to revive national shipping lines in East African port states were in limbo due to concerns that the companies do not have the capacity to operate to reclaim pole position in the maritime sector. Due to increasing operating costs, Zanzibar Shipping Corporation, the only country with a shipping line in the region is auctioning three of its vessels — MV Maendeleo, MT Ukombozi and MV Mapinduzi 1.
This week, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the Kisumu shipyard. “Kenya Shipyards will help in building capacity through skills transfer. This will create jobs and business opportunities for Kenyans if put to good use,” said President Kenyatta.
With the successful construction of MV Uhuru II, which will be commissioned later this year at the Kisumu Shipyard, President Kenyatta expressed satisfaction that Kenya has become a pioneer shipbuilding nation in Africa. MV Uhuru II once completed will complement the old MV Uhuru I operated by Kenya Railways, currently ferrying mainly petroleum products to Uganda which to date has made more than 90 voyages to Port Bell in Uganda.
“The floatation and subsequent commissioning of MV Uhuru II will have the immediate impact of increasing the volume of petroleum products being transported to Uganda from Kisumu while generating more revenue for the government and creating jobs for the youth,” said President Kenyatta.
The global market for ship construction, estimated at $126 billion in 2020, is dominated by South Korea (40 percent), China (25 percent) and Japan (15 percent). The global maritime trade value is worth $14 trillion of which 40 percent worth $5.6 trillion passes through the East Coast of Africa.
This means that Kenya will for the first time have the chance of accessing $5.6 trillion of the trade that plies along the East Coast of Africa by ensuring ships pass through Kenya to undergo repair and maintenance.
Ship construction in Kenya is not new considering Kenya built its first vessel; the MV Uhuru II at Kisumu port over 70 years ago.
Kenya and Zanzibar have proved how difficult it is for a national shipping line to compete without owning vessels and containers.