Ship chandlers have been locked out of luxury cruise business because of failure to meet international supply standards.
The local suppliers remain completely shut out of the business by the stringent international standards on the quality of goods that are purchased by the luxury cruise liners.
At stake are the millions of dollars that operators of the passenger vessels spend on provisions at every main stage of their itinerary. Huge cruise liners such as Pv Marco Polo or Pv Queen Elizabeth II that have visited Mombasa for a number of times are five-star hotels in rank and carry 600 and 1,200 passengers, respectively.
But the ship chandlers in Mombasa say they are literary forced to step aside and watch as supplies of basics such as foods, fruits and mineral water are brought all the way from South Africa and on to the cruise ships every time they come calling and dock at Berth I on the Kenyan port.
“It is interesting to note that imports that could be sourced locally are brought by suppliers from South Africa or Singapore. We are losing terribly as chandlers and as a country,” said Mr Roshanali Pradhan, the secretary of the Kenya Ship Chandlers Association (KSCA).
Pradhan said one of the main reasons why cruise liners avoid sourcing their supplies from Kenya is because the commodities available in the local markets are of poor quality.
The other factor is that of the poor state of the fruit and vegetable markets such as Kongowea.
“As a ship supplier, I cannot touch Kongowea. It is, according to international standards, risky and the Mombasa Municipal Council seems not to care for the market in terms of ensuring cleanliness,” he added.
The Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO) chairperson, Ms Tasneem Adamji, agreed that many local suppliers are unable to fulfil the stringent requirements on safety and hygiene that are imposed by the cruise tourism industry.
Even though, Adamji says the problem should be understood in the right perspective, she said seasonality of the industry had made it difficult for Kenyans, who mostly produce for the export market, to bring a share of their produce to Mombasa for the cruise vessels.
“I think the primary problem is that there is not enough lobbying to promote cruise visits, which would in turn attract supply industries,” she said.
On the quality of the local produce, she singled out oranges which she said were of low quality and many suppliers were prompted to look outside for them if asked to supply a cruise vessel and even some local tourist oriented establishments.
She said Kenyan mangoes and pineapples were of good export quality, but most producers / dealers choose to export about 99 per cent of their produce to the European Union, among other places, leaving no share for cruise vessel supplying.
This is because the cruise vessels do not call at the port throughout the year, or regularly.
The problem can only be solved by marketing Kenya to cruise tourism more aggressively and in collaboration with other destinations in the region, she said, adding that the Indian Ocean Cruise Tourism Promotion initiative – that brings together about six East African countries and islands — provides the best opportunity and the port should be more aggressive.
Adamji, who is managing director of Africa Quest Safaris and board member of Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF), expressed dissatisfaction with the slow pace of the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) in implementing the proposed modern cruise ship handling facility at Berth I, which is expected to attract more vessels once it is operational.
She said that chandlers can still supply military vessels and cargo vessels with provisions.
“These (military and cargo) vessels are not so stringent like cruise vessels, which are floating five-star hotels plus a notch higher in terms of the standards,” the Kato boss said.
For cruise vessels, nothing is left to chance because they are always in the seas and any incident of food poisoning is bound to cause distress, she added.
She urged the Mombasa port management to collaborate with the tourism industry and other players in the East African region to promote cruise tourism, saying no matter how hard the port tries it alone, it would not go far as cruise tourism is circuit based. This means Kenya needs to work together with countries like Mauritius, Tanzania, Seychelles, Zanzibar and Comoros, among others.