US$523m Dar port deal takes a new twist

The planned expansion of Dar es Salaam port involving the construction of berths no 13 and 14 has taken a new twist following the sudden cancellation of a project that was to cost $523 million (Sh836.8 billion), The Citizen has learnt.

According to credible information gathered by this newspaper, Transport minister Harrison Mwakyembe, after being briefed by Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) Managing Director Madeni Kipande, cancelled the project that was to be undertaken by a Chinese contractor.

Instead, Dr Mwakyembe and Mr Kipande have handpicked Kinshasa-based Impala Africa as the new financier of the project on the understanding that the Congolese company would build the two berths and manage them to return its cost.

The duration in which Impala Africa wants to manage the two berths to recover the construction cost is said to be 25 years, The Citizen has learnt.

But some analysts have questioned how the company was chosen to handle such a big project. The Citizen has reliably established that no tender was advertised to obtain the potential investor or financier of the project.

But contacted yesterday, Dr Mwakyembe told The Citizen that the earlier estimates by the Chinese firm, which put the cost at well over $500 million, were much higher than what Kenya spent to expand the port in Mombasa.

He told The Citizen by telephone that construction of berths 13 and 14 would start this year.

Dr Mwakyembe said the ministry wants work to start as soon as possible despite the estimates “not being realistic”.

He added that Kenya spent about $250 million to expand Mombasa port, which was inaugurated by President Uhuru Kenyatta last year in a ceremony that was also attended by presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame of Uganda and Rwanda, respectively.

“This plan has existed for many years, but I doubt the estimated costs…I’m wondering if a comprehensive topographical and hydro physical survey were conducted.

“Deep in the sea where the expansion is set to take place, there are fuel pipelines that are supposed to be reallocated, but the cost of moving them is not indicated anywhere in the survey,” Dr Mwakyembe said.

“We want also to know why our neighbours spent much less than what has been quoted by the Chinese firm.”

The estimated budget for the construction of the two berths is $523 million (Sh836.8 billion), which Dr Mwakyembe said was an “astronomical” sum.

However, he did not say whether the expansion of Mombasa port was similar to what has been planned for Dar es Salaam. He promised to give more details today on plans the ministry and TPA have in store to expand and modernise Dar es Salaam port and make it competitive.

But other sources told The Citizen that the nature of work at the two ports were starkly different.

“The minister is not an engineer. What the construction of berths 13 and 14 at Dar port entails is very different from what has taken place in Kenya. 

Mombasa is a naturally deep harbour, but much work went into enabling huge cargo ships to dock at Dar es Salaam port,” an engineer familiar with the project told The Citizen on condition of anonymity.

“Mombasa port is 14-metres deep, while the plan was to take the harbour in Dar es Salaam to 16 metres…this obviously will cost more.”

The engineer added that it was decided to make Dar es Salaam port deeper than Mombasa if it was to compete effectively with the Kenyan port.

“We didn’t want to do the same thing that our biggest competitor has done. We wanted to make Dar es Salaam the preferred port in this region, but it seems our policy-makers don’t understand this project.”

According to the engineer, Dar es Salaam port is relatively shallow, and it requires extensive dredging to get it to the desired depth.

According to details gathered by The Citizen, Impala Africa officials visited the TPA management mid-last year and offered them what was described as a “fair and good” deal.

On its website, Impala Africa markets itself as a global warehousing and logistics company, specialising in the transportation, processing and storage of metals and bulk commodities.

The firm says it operates on five continents and employs over 1,300 people, and many of its facilities are located close to mines, smelters or power plants.
Source: The Citizen, reported from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
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