Kenya Shipping agents are up in arms this week at the continuing delays to import cargo which is afflicting the industry. The privately run Container Freight Stations (CFS’s) which were set up in 2007 specifically to cope up with the backlog long associated with the country’s trade appear to be the root of the problem.

Containers are piling up awaiting clearance exactly as they used to at Kilindini Harbour, the deepwater facility in Mombasa Port. The CFC’s handle three quarters of the arriving containers and, having seen the charges for scanning and inspection scrapped by the Kenya Ports Authority this month, are apparently now levying a $75 a box charge for handling.

There are several causes for the delay, the four customs bonded CFS’s often have old dilapidated handling equipment and too little of it. After an initial three week period cargo officially goes into store in the Kenya Revenue Authority (Customs) warehouse and incurs a rent charge. If it doesn’t transfer in time the rent still accrues plus charges from the CFS’s in addition.

There are also allegations of corrupt practice. Rent is free within a CFS for the first, recently reduced, five day period and then charges start to accrue. The slowing of document processing and subsequent delays in clearance is an old, oft used trick, like cube cutting to extort extra revenue from shipping contracts and always becomes more prevalent in times of financial crisis.

The problems are likely to prompt action from the authorities. The Kenyan Maritime Authority and the Ministry of Transport are said to be taking a keen interest in the situation. Meanwhile the Kenya Ports Authority are proceeding with works to expand the docks at Mombasa to allow larger ships access and to speed transit through to end users.

Japanese investors have provided funds to the KPA to deepen the approaches and harbour by dredging although this has met with local opposition from fishermen who will be adversely affected and inviting a possible clash with environmental activists.