Over a century ago, Tanganyika had virtually no port facility. Though there was the Indian Ocean, indigenous Tanganyikans used the waters specifically for fishing with extremely low technology. Other uses were slave trade from mainland to Zanzibar.
In Tanga, for example, the area where the present port is was initially a military base during the German colonial era. In course of time, it was decided that a port facility be built in 1889 to serve the local economy, particularly sisal, brought to the colony several years earlier.
From then on, Tanga grew rapidly. It was at this time that a railway line was built with Tanga, which later earned township status in 1891, established as railway terminus far the Usambara railway line, then stretching from Tanga to Moshi.
A few years that followed, Tanga Port was handling agricultural exports -- sisal, coffee and tea -- from estates primarily owned by settlers.
The commodities were loaded into railway wagons at various rail heads and railed downwards to the port. But a few decades later, it was discovered that congestion at the port was the order of the day as traffic, mainly imports, choked the maritime facility.
The other reason was the onset of the era of containerization -- a preferred mode of transport which was moving very fast -- compared with the traditional modal, when bulk transport was commonplace.
Noticing the seemingly turn of events, Tanga Ports Authority (TPA) embarked on an ambitious programme to expand the container stacking yard to counter the growing demand of containerised traffic.
Under the programme, old warehouses not in use would be demolished to pave way for extension of the port yard.
At a forum where two consultants presented an interim report of the feasibility study for development of the new Mwambani Port recently, the stakeholders were told that expansion of present port programme notwithstanding, the port would be congested by around 2016.
The consultants, Alan Stacey and Christopher Fewtrell from the UK-based United Research Services (URS), whose specialist is in Ports Engineering and Environment, said in the report that soda ash exports from Lake Natron in Manyara region, would only be possible with the new port facilities.
“The new port should be predominantly relocated to a new development at Mwambani bay, the existing fishing activities remaining at Tanga,” according to the report.
“The port will not be connected to the rail network until the Natron Soda Ash project is confirmed,” says the report, adding that the rail will handle all soda ash traffic but is also likely to be used for other cargoes such as containers from land-locked countries.
According to the report, the proposed development provides a total of 800m of quay length allowing for three berths, nominally one container, one general cargo and one bulk.
The consultants recommend that the port should be operated on a public sector port management model, unless TPA/government prefer to attract some private sector funding.
Contributing to the experts’ submission, stakeholders had mixed feelings on the proposed construction of the new port.
“Construction of the port would be an inhibitor to the government’s endeavour to maintain the Marine Park along the Tanga south coast, stretching from Tanga Bay to Kigombe, a fishing village,” said a Tanga-based investor who opted for anonymity.
“The park was gazetted in 2009. This is the place where coelacanth fishes -- a critically endangered species with enormous scientific interest -- live. They are among the oldest fish on earth – found over 300 million years ago,” said the investor.
The park covers Toten Island, Mwambani Bay, Yambe and Karange Islands -- all of them coelacanth Marine Park protected areas. Coelacanth fishes were only found in the Comoros and very few in South Africa and Indonesia.
Another contributor, Richard Sanga, a Tanga-based businessman said “presently the new port is unnecessary considering that the old port has potential for expansion.”
“Ideally, the old port should be rehabilitated, with the proposed area of the new port serving as an Inland Container Depot (ICD),” he said.
Mohamed Hussein, a businessman from Zambia told this writer at the meeting that construction of the new port would considerably revamp the country’s economy.
“The new port will enable imports coming straight to Tanga instead of Mombasa, hence cutting down on various costs, reducing production costs in the process., ultimately pushing down prices of fished goods and services,” he said.
“Tanzania is lucky in that it has port facilities unlike land-locked Zambia. In Zambia the cost of products is very high because its imports have to pass through Dar es Salaam Port.
Then raw materials are transported all the way to Zambia through Tunduma and Nakonda (on the Zambia border), a situation which elevates consumer prices of finished goods,” Hussein said.
Chiku Gallawa, Tanga Regional Commissioner, is convinced that the project would be an economically viable venture.
“Construction of the new port is inevitable. The port shall create massive employment and revamp the economy. The present port has short berth. Shortly, “It will fail to cope with the ever increasing flow of traffic,” she said.
Gallawa who was Chief guest at the meeting said Tanga has plenty of investment opportunities, which needed to be tapped.
“If opportunities are there but are not used, they become meaningless,” she said.
TPA Director General Ephraim Mgawe said in a speech read by his deputy, Julius Mfuko, that the authority is faced with several challenges, including the existing shallow depth of the quay that cannot accommodate bigger vessels, necessitating the vessels to anchor outside the port.
He said the use of lighters and bardges has resulted into high operational costs due to double handling.
He cited another challenge as limited space for future expansion of the port.
“Cargo traffic destined for Tanga has been increasing at an annual average growth rate of 16 percent. The rate is expected to grow at a higher pace considering governments plan in collaboration with Uganda government to link the Tanga port with Port Bell in Uganda, via Lake Victoria,” Mgawe said.
“Tanga port can not be expanded further due to its proximity to the city centre. It is anticipated that completion of the new port shall attract bigger ships, transshipment of cargo and traffic from congested ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, hence providing cost-effective transport,” he explained.