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Stephan and 'Chenda Solon, UK

Round the World, in Africa

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Kenya to South Africa - The Kenya Freight Saga

Introduction

I contacted Grant at Horizons Unlimited way back in January of 2000 about airfreighting a bike from Cape Town to Buenos Aires as part of a RWT.

At long last the trip has become a reality and my wife (‘Chenda) and I have made it from Mombasa to Pretoria on our Honda NTV650. Yes, a pure street bike! Not ideal but finances dictated we take the bike we have owned for the past 6 years and 50,000kms. Other than some aluminium luggage, BMW fork gaiters which I added when I first got it and a replacement exhaust (the original wouldn't last the trip) it is unmodified.

We've made it to South Africa via Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and a short detour through Botswana with no problems – not even a puncture! Yes, a trail bike would have been a lot better but as long as we stuck to tar roads (not always possible – 100kms of dirt road in Malawi at about 20kph was a real pain) it was easy. Mind you, in order to ensure we didn't hit any potholes I didn't exceed 80-100kph and was often restricted to 60kph. The important things are we made it and it was almost always good fun.

Kenya

We shipped the bike to Mombasa and this was really the most stressful part of the trip due to delays of two weeks overall. We employed HC Travel in the UK as our agent there who in turn employed a company called Quintrans to arrange the shipping and packing. I left the bike with Quintrans in early June and it was due to be shipped on the 16th of June. Quintrans packed the bike and employed a shipping line called Rohlig UK to transport it to Kenya. One of those two arranged for a Kenyan company, Kenfreight to be the receiving agents in Mombasa.

The main reason for the delay was Rohlig sending the bike on a ship which left one week later than the one they told Quintrans they would send it on and was itself delayed by about 4 days. Rohlig didn't bother to tell anyone this so the first we knew about it was when we showed up at Kenfreight's offices. We introduced ourselves and explained they were expected to receive our bike arriving on the week beginning 10th June. Not surprisingly they couldn't find any relevant documentation at first but a couple of hours later they had found out what had happened. Apparently Rohlig didn't have enough freight going to Mombasa to fill a container so they placed the bike with another shipping firm resulting in the change of ship. I've thrown away all the paperwork as it took up too much room so I can't tell you their name but their agent in Mombasa required paying about US$120 which Kenfreight added to their bill. By that point I didn't care as long as I could get the bike.

A further complication was I was never sent an original House Bill of Lading by any of the companies involved which was potentially very serious but Kenfreight were still able to receive the bike for me. I'm not sure whose responsibility that was.

No sooner than we'd established the bike was on a different ship Rohlig told Kenfreight not to release the bike to us as they'd not been paid. I couldn't believe it! We'd paid HC Travel before I gave it to Quintrans for packing. How come Rohlig hadn't been paid? The confusion over whether Rohlig had been paid or not took about a week to sort out and involved daily visits to Kenfreights offices and a number of e-mails to HC Travel. HC Travel were able to find out Rohlig had indeed been paid but they had a serious internal communication problem. We then asked Rohlig to e-mail Kenfreight to confirm this which HC Travel said Rohlig did twice but Kenfreight claimed to never receive. Mombasa was experiencing frequent power cuts at the time but I don't believe they were unable to receive e-mail when I had no problems doing so. Eventually we spoke with the office manager, who ran the place as if it was his own personal kingdom, and he agreed to call Rohlig to find out it they'd been paid. They said they had been and later that day Kenfreight received an e-mail confirming that'... .At least it was sorted by the time the ship arrived.

 

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That leads me on to the further causes of delay. The ship docked on Tuesday 18th July but the container the bike was in was not finally unloaded until late on Friday. That was too late for customs and no further progress was possible until the following Monday. On Tuesday we were told that the container hadn't been stripped but were given the impression that this would be done by the end of the day and customs clearance could take place the next day. Unfortunately Kenfreight don't have much influence over what happens when at the port. That's fair enough but the people working for Kenfreight are loathe to give anyone bad news and we had to ask an awful lot of detailed questions about the process of clearing before we could get a remotely accurate picture of what was happening.

Luckily my wife, ‘Chenda, is a Quaker and by then we'd made friends with the local Quakers, several of whom work for Kenya Port Authority. After asking around we found that one, Bernard, worked in a senior position in the warehouse next to the one the bike was stored at. This enabled us to get a clear picture of what was going on. That Wednesday the container still hadn't been stripped despite what Kenfreight led us to believe. Bernard advised us this was because a number of chemicals deemed hazardous goods were also on the container and, according to Port Regulations, had to be taken directly out of the port by the consignees. That meant the bike could not be unloaded until that had happened. At that point we were exasperated but Bernard said he'd ask the manager of the warehouse to do him a favour and by the end of the day the container was stripped so the process of clearing could start the next day.

 

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The office manager at Kenfreight was by now quite determined that the bike should be cleared in one day and that was indeed what happened. It did take all that Thursday however. We accompanied Kenfreights man at the port and he was literally running from one office to the next to make it happen. You may find the detail of this is very boring but I'll run through it to give you a clear impression of what was involved.

We met Kenfrieghts chappie, Mr Mgongo, at the port gate at 9.00am and obtained port passes and were driven 2km to the customs office to collect a customs officer to verify the bike was the bike described in the carnet. We then drove 5km past where we entered the port to the warehouse where the bike was kept in a sectioned off area containing 2 desks and leading on to a larger office area. Having ensured the engine and chassis numbers are the same as those in the carnet we went to the larger office area to get one of the port officers to stamp a port clearance document. The carnet confused him but after some explanation by the customs officer the necessary stamp was obtained.

We then drove the 5km back to the customs office where the customs officer did the necessary with the carnet. Mgongo then got the customs officers boss to sign and stamp a further piece of paper and we headed back to the bike and obtained a further stamp from a port officer at one of the two desks near it. We then went to the neighbouring warehouse to get a stamp from one of the policemen there and during the course of this met Bernard. It turns out he and Mgongo had worked with each other for 12 years but still did not know their first names! Bernard confirmed we couldn't ride the bike out of the port as Port Regs required it leave in the crate it came in. This meant Mgongo had to arrange for its transport.

We then went to another police office 1km away, obtained a further stamp and then got another one from a further police office in a nearby portakabin. At this point it was necessary to drive the 6km to the main customs office to get two further stamps. While we waited for Mgoogo, who was able to jump queues without generating anything other than friendly banter, we read a notice saying consignees were no longer permitted to clear their goods themselves. That done it was 12.00pm which meant the start of the normal 2 hour lunch break.

At 2.00pm we went back to the bike and then got two further stamps at an adjacent warehouse and then one more from the first port officer to give us a stamp before getting another stamp from the officer at the second of the two desks near the bike. Then we got one more stamp from the police, this time an officer at the warehouse the bike was at, and we were able to load the bike onto a lorry arranged by Mgongo.

I bet you're thinking that was it. Oh no. Now we had to actually get out of the port which closes its gates at 5.00pm. It was 3.30 at this point and Mgongo was getting nervous. A further 3 stamps were required by Port Security and as each stamp requires a corresponding entry in a ledger we did not get out until 4:30. This sort of time scale is apparently really quick!

Well, 2 hours later the bike was assembled and running. I couldn't believe it! The only damage to the bike was a broken indicator stalk due to overzealous wrapping by Quintrans which was easily repaired with gaffer tape. After settling up the next day we were US$400 poorer overall. If you count the cost of e-mails and additional days at our hotel that adds a further US$140. Right now I'm about to arrange airfreighting the bike to Buenos Aires'... I'll let you know what happens.

Next Story - Africa

 

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