* South Sudan trade via port grew by 87 pct
* Mombasa is a gateway to landlocked countries in E.Africa
By Beatrice Gachenge
NAIROBI, March 12 (Reuters) - South Sudan nearly doubled shipment volumes through Kenya’s main port last year, helping the port achieve a greater-than-expected 5 percent increase in cargo volumes despite heavy congestion and slow cargo clearance, its operator said on Monday.
The port, which serves as a gateway into east Africa’s landlocked countries, said total throughput ticked up to about 20 million tonnes in 2011 from 18.9 million tonnes in 2010, above the port’s target of 19.4 million tonnes.
Traffic through the Mombasa port is watched as a key economic indicator for the region.
Gichiri Ndua, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) managing director, said in a statement that trade by newly independent South Sudan rose 87 percent last year to 417,033 tonnes, ranking as the port’s second-biggest user after Uganda.
Uganda accounted for 4.37 million tons, a growth of 3 percent.
Transit cargo, destined for countries other than Kenya, grew by about 4 percent to 5.6 million tonnes.
Apart from Kenya, the port handles cargo to and from Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
Imports surged by 5 percent to about 17 million tonnes, while exports grew by 8 percent to 2.8 million tones last year.
Imports through the port include oil, clinker which is used to make cement, steel, bitumen for road construction and second-hand cars, while the main exports include tea, coffee, and horticulture goods.
Frequent power surges and outages have damaged equipment and slowed operations, and the port plans to upgrade its power lines and connections starting from next week at a cost of 600 million shillings ($7.3 million), to be sourced internationally, Ndua said.
Kenya also plans to build a $300 million container terminal, the second at Mombasa, with a capacity of 18 million tonnes to handle increased trade within the region. The first phase is expected to be completed in 2015.
Construction of country’s second port in Lamu, north of Mombasa, with a capacity of 23 million tonnes per year was officially launched two weeks ago.
$1 = 82.7500 Kenyan shillings Editing by James Macharia and Jane Baird