The Kenyan Government has taken the decision to avert a congestion crisis at the port of Mombasa by allowing Vehicle Importers from Japan to freely collect their vehicles from the Mombasa port before obtaining the mandatory number plates from the Registrar of Motor Vehicles.

The vehicles have been piling for nearly a month because number plates, which are made by the Prisons department, have been scarce. The department has however, denied any problems with the output of number plates.

The vehicles which are cleared at the rate of 200 per day have piled up to 10,000 in all the Container Freight Stations (CFSs) used by the port, with 2,000 more cars expected to dock in next week.

On Sunday, the Kenya Revenue Authority said the ports authority was calling on importers to collect vehicles from the stations. They can then wait for the number plates which were likely to take sometime while keeping their vehicles outside the port.

KRA last year introduced a rule that vehicles should not leave the port until they are issued with number plates.

“We started allowing vehicles to leave the stations and wait for the plates. But the condition is that the owners must have paid all dues including the plates fees,” she said.

The shortage of number plates is causing concern among shippers and importers because a crisis is looming over storage space.

The recent warders’ strike made the situation worse because no production took place during the strike, and even after the strike, production of the plates has been slow. Now there are fears that if the congestion goes unchecked, vessels calling at Mombasa port with vehicles may impose punitive charges to recover losses over waiting period which is expected to increase due to lack of space in the CFSs.

Currently the CFSs mandated by KRA as custom bonded warehouses and contracted by Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to handle vehicles are saturated with cars.

A source at a freight station yesterday said if the problem is not addressed urgently, the situation might lead to congestion at the port because the freight terminals will lack space to store the vehicles.

“The situation is serious because soon we will run out of space, meaning that we shall not be able to take more from the port,” the source said.

Boss Freight Terminal said the terminal was currently holding 1,300 vehicles.“We are expecting another consignment of 2,000 cars and we do not know where we shall keep them,” he said. There are close to 10 CFSs that handle vehicles and most of them are full to capacity.

And now, clearing and forwarding agents want KRA to rescind the decision, saying it did not make sense to detain vehicles whereas all duties and taxes, including registration fees, had been paid in full.

Kenya International Freight & Warehousing Association Mombasa branch chairman Peter Otieno said once a vehicle had been cleared with all duties paid, including registration fees, it should immediately be released.

On Saturday, Mr Otieno said agents were losing millions of shillings by paying storage charges accruing as a result of vehicles overstaying at freight stations.