New security risks cast shadow over Kenya’s struggling Lamu port
Kenyan authorities are struggling to encourage shipping companies to use the new Lamu port as growing security risks threaten the viability of the facility, which is struggling to attract business after the completion of its first phase .
The coastal region of Lamu has seen a spike in deadly attacks in recent days, allegedly carried out by the terror group al-Shabaab, prompting the government to impose a 30-day dusk-to-dawn curfew.
The attacks left 13 people dead, including four police officers who were killed after their vehicle was hit by an explosion. The violence casts a dark shadow over Lamu Port, despite government assurances that the insecurity will not affect the viability of the facility.
“The government has put in place all the measures to secure Lamu. The ongoing massive security operation should not scare away investors or affect trade through the new port of Lamu,” said Karanja Kibicho, Principal Secretary of Home Affairs.
The Kenyan government is undertaking a security operation to root out the militants behind the attacks and restore normalcy to the volatile area.
Security risks are the latest threat to the viability of Lamu Port, a facility that shipping companies have given pride of place – and which risks becoming a white elephant, experts warn. Since commissioning in May last year as a transshipment facility, the $367 million Lamu Port has handled just nine vessels and a total of 1,619 TEUs.
The port is using its first pier, which has a capacity of 17,000 TEUs, and the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) has completed the construction of piers two and three. KPA says it is in the process of acquiring modern equipment including three mobile harbor cranes and ship-to-shore gantry cranes to complement port operations.
“The demand for global transshipment is there and our goal as KPA is to ensure that we continue to bring modern equipment which will help to improve the cargo handling turnaround time at Lamu Port,” said John Mwangemi, Acting Managing Director of KPA.
Although the port, which was developed by China Communication Construction Company, is struggling to attract shipping companies despite incentives, the government intends to issue tenders seeking private companies to build 20 additional berths under a public-private partnership to complete the installation of 23 berths. .
Conceived in 2012, Lamu Port was originally conceived to be a massive $3 billion project that would be implemented over a period of 16 years. It would have a total of 32 berths that would handle 24 million containers per year, making it one of the largest and busiest ports in the world.
Changing dynamics in the East African region – including port investments from neighboring countries such as Somalia and waning interest from Ethiopia and South Sudan, the two countries that have been argued to be the main source of transhipment activity for the facility – have forced the Kenyan authorities to rethink their strategies for Lamu Port.