Roughly 35 years ago, a large population of Tanga residents held port workers in high regard in terms of remuneration package from their employer – the then East African Cargo and Handling Services (EACHS).
In fact, it did not mean that the workers were the best paid in terms of salaries. It simply meant that the emoluments were many. They included loan grants, twice monthly salary payments and of course, handsome overtime payment that was a necessity to prompt loading and offloading of cargo.
In essence, overtime payment was a stimulus towards workers contribution as far as operations are concerned.
But suddenly, a few years after the Arusha Declaration in 1967, a policy that involved nationalisation of sisal estates, major and small, operations of the Tanga port dwindled badly, affecting the workers purchasing power.
This was because some tasks like overtime working were reduced to a minimum, following the reduction of activities.
Todate, the trend remains the same – with the “wound” remaining unhealed, even after a few investors had ventured into sisal farming. Sisal was, indeed, the backbone of Tanga region’s economy.
Apart from sisal, a crop whose origin is Germany, Tanga port, one of the military ports during German colonial era in East Africa, handled agricultural products, mainly sisal fibre loaded from the then Usambara railway line’s thirty two rail heads.
Other exports included robusta coffee from Moshi – on the slopes of mountain Kilimanjaro. Tea, grown on mountain slopes of Amani in Muheza District and West Usambara (Lushoto District) were commodities handled at the port.
However, traffic flow through the port of Tanga has been showing a steady growth since 1977, according to a progress report presented at a recent Regional Consultative Council (RCC) by Awadh Massawe, Tanga Port Master.
“Since that time (1977), the upward trend has gone up as much as 86 percent todate”, said Massawe.
He said from 2001-2010, imports traffic handled at the port has been recording an average of 18.2 percent per year – a fact brought about by bulk coal traffic – energy producer and clinker – an important input in cement production.
The report, nevertheless, showed a drastic decline in bulk petroleum liquid for the last ten years. The imports, says Massawe, have been declining constantly.
“Statistics by Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) show that the trend slumped since 2008”, he says.
Massawe says several factors were attributed to the diversion of petroleum imports from Tanga to Dar es Salaam – one of them being benefits of economies of scale.
Others are a conducive environment of market in Dar es Salaam, compared to Northern Zone regions of Tanga, Kilimanjaro and Arusha.
The problem is exercebated by the suspension of rail services from Tanga to the Central Corridor.
Container traffic, both imports and exports, full and empty, recorded fluctuation since 2001.
The Port Master revealed that in collaboration with TRA, both managements visited petroleum products importers in Dar es Salaam last year – those who were main users of the port, as a strategy to persuade their come back.
“During the meetings, we succeeded to convince one of them- M/S Gulf Bulk Petroleum Products (GBP) to make a homecoming and he agreed. In fact, at the time of this meeting, GBP has already imported two full consignments of petroleum products on two occasions aboard Alpine Magic which delivered a total of 16,000 tonnes,” he said, adding that the company had promised to keep on using Tanga port.
Other regions visited, said Massawe, were Kilimanjaro and Arusha, whose businessmen also pledged to continue using Tanga port facility.
“It is disappointing to learn that since 2009, no single traffic has been hauled to the Tanga port by railways. Most traffic has been transported through road”.
The Port Master revealed that challenges facing the port include the low berth which inhibits ships from anchorage within the port vicinity, necessitating double handling.
“We need bigger pontoons to handle heavier cargo. At present, we are embarking on procurement of three pontoons with capacity of 3500 tons each”, he said, adding that a tender has already been floated in this respect.
“TPA has, on the drawing board, procurement of floating cranes which will cater for bigger ships without ship gear.” The Tanga port has a programme to provide extension of the container yard.
“A consultant has been already appointed for consultancy study for creation of additional lands at Tanga port”, he revealed.
“TPA calls upon the regional leadership to solicit investment opportunities for venturing in manufacturing sector and cash crops, hence attracting more ships coming to the port”.
He said railway services equally needed to be revived since its absence has evidently had effect in the overall performance of the port.
Apart from anticipated expansion of the port, the government of Tanzania and Uganda are engaged in serious talks on the strategic project of construction of the second port at Mwambani Bay – 5 kilometres from city centre.
The anticipated new port is aimed at accommodating bigger ships, a situation which will require building of deeper berths, unlike the present facility where incoming ships anchor a few kilimetres from the port.
“A consultant M/s Scot Wilson, has already been appointed to perform a feasibility study on the project”, concluded the port boss.