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Mombasa port set for fresh dredging on Dar rivalry

Kenya Ports Authority Managing Director William Ruto.

Posted on October 25, 2023

The Mombasa port is set for a fresh round of dredging, spooked by similar upcoming access way expansion works at the rival Dar es Salaam that risks shifting more business to the gateway of the neighbouring country.

Tanzania has lined up major dredging at the Dar es Salaam port in the fourth quarter of this year, which upon completion will see the gateway have a ship entrance with a minimum width of 170 metres and depths ranging from 15 to 16 metres below chart datum (CD) — a level so low that the tide will not frequently fall below it.

Comparatively, the access channel at the Mombasa port was in 2012 dredged to a depth of 15 metres and a width of 300 metres. Before the dredging works, the maximum allowable length of a vessel entering the port was restricted to 259m. Currently, the Mombasa port can handle ships with a maximum length of 300m.

“Mainline container ships with beams 45 metres can operate at draughts of up to 14.4 metres. For comparison, the approaches of container ports in the region, such as Dar es Salaam after completion of the capital dredging work in quarter four of 2023 have a minimum width of 170 metres and depths ranging from 15 to 16m below CD” said the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA).

“Given this context, it becomes imperative to increase both the width and depth of the approach channel to Mombasa, allowing it to accommodate very large container ships efficiently,” the agency said in a disclosure even as it scouted for a consultant to drive the new dredging job at the Mombasa port.

Mombasa as a key port in the region, competes with other ports for containerised cargo. When shipping companies decide on a transhipment port to use, one of the crucial factors they examine is the depth and width of the approach channel.

“It is essential for Mombasa to provide a channel that is wide and deep enough to accommodate the largest container ships currently in service and those planned for the future. Failure to do so could put the port at a competitive disadvantage, considering the availability of several other ports in the vicinity” KPA said.

The Port of Mombasa consists of Kilindini harbour, Port Reitz, the old port (Mombasa harbour), and Port Tudor. The main port comprises Kilindini harbour and Port Reitz commonly referred to as the Mombasa port.

Access to the port of Mombasa can be obtained through an about 12-kilometre-long buoyed access channel directly from the open sea. The outer access channel stretches for about 4.4km up to buoys eight and nine.

Vessels approaching the Mombasa port must, however, navigate through an S-shaped bend between Ras Serani and Ras Mzimba, which poses a constraint on the maximum ship length that can safely navigate through the channel.

Past dredging including in 2012 comprised the navigation channel at the port entrance, the navigation channel at the inner port, and the turning and anchorage basins at the proposed Kipevu west container terminal.

Also incorporated into the works was maintenance dredging at the existing berths 1-19 as well as installation of associated navigation aids.

“Both maintenance and capital dredging past work was made necessary as a result of the worldwide trend towards the use of post-Panamax vessels, which were bigger than the ones that called on the port as of 2006,” said the KPA.

“Further there had been increased competition from other ports such as Dar es Salaam and Durban and this called for better efficiency in service delivery reflected by vessel turn-around time and the time taken to haul the cargo to the end users,” said the port manager.


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