DAR-ES-SALAAM, Tanzanian President John Magufuli has launched the start of construction works to deepen and upgrade berths at the country's main port of Dar-es-Salaam with a call to the contractors to look into the possibility of fast-tracking its completion from 36 months to between 28 and 30 months.

Dr Magufuli was informed that under the improvements, the port would have capacity to handle larger Post Panamax ships, which can carry between 6,000 and 8,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers compared with the maximum capacity of 4,000 TEUs which can presently be carried by smaller ocean-going vessels.

The upgrading of the country's major port under the Dar es Salaam Maritime Gateway Project (DMGP), by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) ,will enable more ships to dock, offload and load shipments at the habour at any one time, reducing waiting time and enhancing efficiency.

The dwell time at the port is expected to drop from 80 to 30 hours once the expansion and deepening works here are completed in 2023.

This project will benefit not only Tanzania but her landlocked neighbours like Rwanda, Zambia, Burundi, Uganda, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The envisaged Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) will highly depend on the effectiveness of the port that handles 90 per cent of imported goods, he added Sunday.

The president was upbeat on increased trade within the East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which have total populations of 165 million and 400 million, respectively. The World Bank provided a 345 million US dollar loan for the project while Britain, through its Department for International Development (DFID), provided a 12.4 million USD grant.

The Tanzanian government will provide funding of 63.4 million USD. Presently, only smaller ships of 243-metre length and carrying capacity of between 2,500 and 4,000 TEUs can dock at the port but after the upgrading works, the port will be able to accommodate Post Panamax ships of 320 metre length to offload and load cargoes.

The entrance channel of the port will have its depth deepened from 10.2 metres to 15.5 metres for a distance of eight km and its width widened to 170 metres from the current 140 metres to allow bigger ships to sail smoothly to and from the berths, according to the Director-General of Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA), Deusdedit Kakoko.

The Dar es Salaam port currently has 12 berths including the Single Point Mooring (SPM) for petroleum products in Kigamboni area. Seven of the berths are dedicated to general cargo and four to container operations. Last year, the port handled 14 million tonnes of cargoe, up from 13.8 million tonnes in 2015 and 13.1 million tonnes in 2014, reflecting an average growth of nine per cent per year over the last five years.