It is all systems go as President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to commission the first three berths of Lamu Port.
The berths were built at a cost of about Sh40 billion and the port is billed as a catalyst to the growth of the country’s blue economy.
On Wednesday, it was, however, not clear whether South Sudan President Salva Kiir and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed whose countries are set to benefit from the harbour will attend.
In 2012, the then President Mwai Kibaki was joined by Kiir, the then Ethiopian Prime Minister the late Meles Zenawi and Uganda President Yoweri Museveni lay down a foundation plaque at the Port.
Maritime experts say the project which is part of the Lamu Port South Sudan Transport corridor (Lapsset) would also propel Kenya to be a transport and commercial hub.
The port was conceptualised in 1972 but shelved for 49 years after maritime consultants raised questions about its feasibility and exorbitant cost.
In 2018, the idea was revived after a team of consultants led by Dr Kilonzo Mutule proposed three key components that Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia should focus on to make it viable.
National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani toured the facility on Wednesday as Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) officials made final touches ahead of the commissioning.
Denmark-based shipping giant, Maersk ship, MV Cap Carmel enroute to Salalah in Oman from Dar es Salaam is the first commercial vessel expected to dock during the launch, signaling the beginning of business.
A second vessel Mv Seago Bremen Haven, loaded with avocado, from Mombasa Port is also expected to make a call at the new facility.
Lamu Port which has deeper and longer berths is being positioned as a transshipment facility where bigger ships could bring cargo for redistribution in the region.
One berth is complete with its yard while two others are about 90 per cent complete and will be ready for use by October this year.
The contractor, China Communications Construction Company is currently working on the yards for the two berths which measure 400 metres long and 17.5 metres deep.
The strategic location of Lamu port is expected to place it in a position to compete with major ports in the region such as Durban in South Africa.
KPA captain Geoffrey Namadoa indicated that Lamu port will handle 100 containers during its launch. The company has since transferred cargo handling equipment from Mombasa Port to Lamu ahead of the launch.
The equipment included forklifts, two rubber-tyred gantry (RTG) cranes and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) cargo scanners.
But even as the port opens to business, security and road connectivity remain a major challenge.
The launch of the port comes two days after the Al Shabaab attack on the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) soldiers at Baure in Lamu East.
Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) chief executive Mr Dennis Ombok last week raised the issue of security when he addressed a port stakeholders’ forum attended by CS Yatani at the Lamu Port. “We are ready to follow the cargo. But we must be assured of security first.”
The contractor on the 114 km Garsen-Lamu road is yet to complete some 10 kilometre stretch even as the port operations start. The key road cost Sh11 billion.
Kenya National Authority (Kenha) director-general Engineer Peter Mundinia said a contractor recently moved to the site to work on the Lapsset development road projects measuring a total of 453 kms within one and half years at a cost of Sh17.9 billion.
The contracts comprise 357 kms from Ijara to Garissa and 83 kms extension to Hulugho. The projects also include a 113 km spur road from Hindi-Budhei-Basuba-Kiunga to support the fishing industry and boost security.
The tender was awarded to China Communications Construction Company recently.
KPA has also recruited 100 workers from Lamu County and transferred 70 experienced staff from Mombasa Port to the new port to kick off the commercial operations.
Last week, Yatani said all relevant government agencies such as KRA, Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), Immigration Department and Port Health have set base at the Lamu Port.
He assured that government will offer generous incentives at the new port including storage period for cargo. “We may extend the storage period from 30 days to even 60 days or 90 days as an incentive to port users.”
He also said the Lamu 4,734 fishermen will receive Sh1.7 billion compensation for loss of their fishing grounds. The funds will also cater for the acquisition of modern fishing gear.