July 23, 2024

PIL agreement behind the congestion at the Port of Mombasa

A container cargo ship seen from aboard mv Kilindini pass through the Likoni crossing channel toward the deep sea after calling at the Port of Mombasa Photo by Mwakera Mwajefa


The Kenya Ports Authority and Pacific International Line (PIL) agreement is to blame for the ongoing congestion at the sea port of Mombasa.

This comes in the wake of ‘a senior incompetent port manager’, who last year, made the authority enter into an ill-advised agreement with PIL.

The shipping line has a fleet of around 95 vessels (container, dry bulk, multi-purpose vessels) with a capacity of more than 400,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

It is undestood that PIL has also taken delivery of 12 vessels of 11,800 TEU with a workforce of over 18,000 staff globally serving about 500 ports in nearly 100 countries worldwide. The PIL provides a dedicated container shipping services from the Far East to East and South Africa.

Their agreement with KPA is to provide direct weekly coverage from North, Central and South China to the sea port of Mombasa with a total of 13 Panamax vessels which the authority does not have that capacity to undertake such a huge contract.

This has caused heavy losses to PIL shipping line, disrupting it ship turn around and fleet management processes.


Thus, affecting other shipping lines and feeder vessels callings and subsequent berth operations forcing them to cause congestion surcharge for import and export cargo at the sea port of Mombasa.

The feeder network serving the port of Mombasa provides rapid connections to other ports in the western Indian Ocean region.

Port congestion is a major challenge faced by many ports globally and can occur due to various reasons like over booked container terminal more than its capacity; lack of port handling equipment ; lack of yard space; vessel bunching and hinterland connections.

Another major problem at the port of Mombasa is the skill incompatibility and that of irrelevant qualification of the labor force to the top offices at the Kipevu’s port headquarters. The Kenyan maritime sector needs thorough overhaul to take it up a notch high.

The congestion prevalent in African ports is sixfold: berth congestion causing incoming and outgoing ship traffic; ship work congestion caused by delays loading/offloading cargo; vehicle gate congestion resulting from landward access to the ports; vehicle work congestion due to lapses of loading/offloading; cargo stacks congestion from continuous stay of uncollected cargo and exit route congestion arising caused by blockade on marine side access to port facilities.

These congestiona are, therefore, associated with delays, queuing and extra time of voyage and dwell of ships and cargo at the port, which always occur with unpleasant consequences on logistics and supply chain translating into extra costs, loss of trade and disruption of trade and transport agreements.


Instead of political interference, Mombasa and other African ports should enhance their regulatory mechanisms, then to improve capacity and efficiency level in order to shoulder the ever increasing challenges of port congestion in years ahead.

Transporting goods by sea remains the most common way to trade globally, but in Africa cargo spends an abnormally long time in ports before it is moved inland, presenting a serious obstacle to the successful integration of sub-Saharan economies in worldwide trade networks.

The average cargo waiting time in African sea ports is 20 days which means more than half of the time needed to transport cargo from ports to hinterland cities in landlocked countries in sub-Saharan Africa is wasted because of the time cargo spends in ports.

Dwell time is the time cargo remains in a terminal’s in-transit storage areas while awaiting shipment for export or onward transportation by road or rail to the hinterland as import.

Dwell time is one indicator of a port’s efficiency which literally means the higher the dwell time, the lower the efficiency.

And longer dwell times results into inefficiencies relating to port congestion and can have an adverse effect on economic growth. Those making decisions on whom to occupy the offices at Kipevu would be wiser if they factor in all these and other complexities in port operations rather than driving changes at port on sheer political exigencies.

Edited by Mwakera Mwajefa

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