BOASTING its pride of being a natural harbour Mtwara Port is the country's strategic terminal that plays a significant role in facilitating cargo transport for the southern regions of Mtwara, Lindi and Ruvuma.
Due to its strategic location, the Port also serves as an ideal gateway to the outside world for commodity exports and imports for some parts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states such as Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.
That prompted the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) to massively invest in the expansion work of the terminal, a task that was assigned to two Chinese firms - Chinese firms- M/S China Railway Construction Engineering Group( CRCEG) and China Railway Major Bridge Engineering Group ( CRMBEG) - at the cost of 137bn/-.
According to TPA officials, the two firms had the task of constructing a new berth measuring 300metres in length and 13.5 metres in depth, enabling the port to accommodate mega ships weighing 65,000 tonnes.
Before the expansion work the port was accommodating cargo ships with 40,000 tonnes ( Dead Weight -DWT), as the terminal was operating with an old 380-metre berth only, meaning that with the construction of the second berth with 300 metres Mtwara Port will now have a berth measuring 680 metres in length.
The second task that the two contracted firms were assigned to undertake was the expansion of the port's cargo storage yard by constructing a 79,000 -square metre area. Originally the port had a storage yard measuring 40,000 square metres only.
TPA officials say upon completion of the project, Mtwara Port will increase its cargo handling capacity from 400,000 tonnes per annum to 1,000,000 tonnes as all the necessary state -of -the art cargo handling equipment, including modern mobile cranes and other heavy lifting machines will be availed.
The government's future plan on Mtwara Port is to have four berths given the fact that the project falls under its determination to exploit to the maximum the benefits brought about by Mtwara Corridor.
Significance of Mtwara Port to southern regions and some neighbouring countries The significance of the terminal to the residents of the southern regions can be traced back to the yester years when the port served as a gateway for exporting cashews. Some literature materials trace the importance of the port back to the colonial era when it served as the landing site for missionaries who had settled in Lindi and Mtwara regions.
As time moved on, especially after independence, the government expanded the terminal to be able to meet the growing cargo handling demand brought about by the increase in cashews exports and other loose cargo.
Currently, Mtwara Port plays a significant role in ferrying cashew nuts abroad including Vietnam. Cashew nuts, which is the cash earning crop for the southerners, is one of the dependable forex earner for the country.
Cement produced at Dangote Cement Plant in Mtwara Region has been reaching markets in Comoro, Zanzibar and some parts in SADC region through Mtwara Port.
A fertiliser plant to be established in Lindi will also depend on the port for the product to reach markets in some parts in the southern region and beyond. According to Mtwara Port management, the port eyes handling transit fuel consignment for some SADC countries.
Mtwara Port was included in what can simply be termed as the International Maritime Security System (ISPS Code Compliance) in 2013 that compels the port to conform to international maritime security laws and regulations.
The terminal also uses an Integrated Security System, all of which have contributed making it one of the most secure gateways along the Indian Ocean shoreline. Statistics released by authority in Mtwara region shows an increase in number of cargo ships handled by the port in recent years.
According to data released by Mtwara Port management, the port handled 141 ships in 2018/19 financial year, generating 5.645bn/- in revenue compared to 66 ships handled by the same port the preceding financial year, which is equivalent to 113 per cent increase.
In 2013/14 financial year the port handled 356,356 metric tonnes of cargo while the following financial year (2014/15) cargo handled by the port dropped to 296,577 metric tonnes. In 2015/16 Mtwara port handled 268,035 metric tonnes while the following year cargo again rose to 377,590 metric tonnes.
In 2017/18 financial year, the cargo slightly decreased to 363,287 metric tonnes before it again slid down further to 106,170 metric tonnes in 2018/19 financial year. The decrease in cargo handled was an expected phenomenon as coal imports through the port for Dangote cement plant in Mtwara were halted after the plant switched to gas.
However, Dangote cement plant has remained one of top users of the through cement exports to Zanzibar, Comoro and some parts of the Southern African countries. Data available at TPA shows in July 2019, a total of 800 tonnes of cement were handled by the port followed by 1,000 tonnes the following month while in September 2019th another 1,000 tonnes of Dangote cement were handled by the port.
Available reports at TPA showed the Dangote cement plant was planning to start ferrying 120,000 tonnes of cement each month through Mtwara port under concessionary rate agreement. According to TPA, being a dependable cash earning produce for the southerners and the country at large, cashew nut has been contributing considerably to the tonnage handled by the port every year.
To ordinary residents of the southern region, Mtwara port has contributed much in lessening the cost of living after the Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Authority (EWURA) issued an order requiring fuel destined for Mtwara, Lindi and Ruvuma regions be offloaded at Mtwara terminal.
Previously fuel destined for the three regions was offloaded at the principal port of Dar es Salaam before being transported overland, further hiking pump prices. To create convenient fuel handling environment, efforts are underway by TPA to build modern infrastructure, including installing a flow metre to facilitate storage and shipment of oil destined for some parts of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
After construction of Mbinga-Mbamba Bay Port road to the tarmac level, Mtwara terminal is expected to contribute significantly to the government coffers as cargo destined for some parts of some SADC Member states will now be imported through Mtwara Port before being transported up to Mbamba Bay Port in Lake Nyasa where to be ferried to the respective destinations.
The route that stretches from Mtwara via Masasi, Tunduru, Songea-Mbinga up to Mbamba Bay Port is much shorter than the distance from Dar es Salaam to Tunduma or Kasumulu borders, meaning that traders from Malawi and the northern parts of Mozambique and Zambia will find Mtwara terminal as a convenient gateway for their exports and imports.
It should be borne in mind that TPA is also carrying out a major facelift on Mbamba Bay Port in Ruvuma region to capitalise on opened Mtwara corridor.