The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) is on the spot over a sudden change of mind to allow a multinational to set up a cooking gas storage plant at the Mombasa port despite previously raising safety concerns.
The Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) had indicated that the project should be blocked because of the risks it posed but Nemaâs green light prompted the investors to start the Sh7.5 billion project this week.
Correspondence exchanged among the agencies detail a strong behind-the-scene pushes for the building of the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage and filling facility with concerns over the safety of ships docking at the port, a school, the Bandari College and a densely populated Ganjoni-Liwatoni neighbourhood.
The recent launch was the climax of drama after the ERC and top county officials invited by the British firm Petredec and its local partner Rift Gas â operating under Mansa East Africa Limited â failed to show up over the uncertainty of the projectâs licence status.
In a curious twist, on April 4, an invitation was sent to the ERC through Mansa East Africa, which is said to be the umbrella company of the Kenyan and British firms, despite the regulator not having given approval. The ERC rejected the invitation in a letter sent two days later, but the event went on anyway.
ERC Director-General Pavel Oimeke, while rejecting the invite, warned the firm against proceeding with the âillegalâ project.
âThe commission notes that Mansa East Africa Limited is yet to obtain a construction permit for the proposed project and proceeding with the ground-breaking ceremony prior to obtaining the permit would be in breach of the law,â he wrote back to Mansa EA Managing Director Njuki Mwaniki.
On Saturday, Mr Oimeke told the Sunday Nation the regulator was yet to issue a licence to set up the facility, which is expected to start operating by the end of the year.
The ERC is not the only government agency that expressed objections on the LPG project on safety and security concerns. In May 2018, the KFS wrote to the Nema saying the proposed bulk LPG storage terminal would compromise the safety of ships.
According to the ferry operator, such a project could easily catch fire and should not be located at the main entrance of the port.
âWe have observed that the point where they want to put the LPG off-loading plant and storage is in a most dangerous place, that is, at the mouth of Kilindini port. It is also most hazardous to shipping route and ferry operation area as well as a highly populated area; considering the highly flammable nature of LPG. We have a lot of reservations on this project and therefore we reject the proposal on these grounds,â the KFS wrote to the Nema on May 2, 2018.
The investors, however, insist the project is above board and has received the green light from âmajor relevant authoritiesâ including a Nema licence and is assured of the projectâs successful conclusion. Petredec (Europe) Head of Business Development Max Beckett said the project was designed to meet both the Kenyan and the International standards for LPG installations.
âWe have an Environmental Impact Assessment approval from Nema in Nairobi (Licence No. NEMA/EIA.PSL/7368), the blessing of Nema Mombasa and the local residents. The ERC inspected the project again after their initial no objection letter of last year on Wednesday, April 10 and we hope for a positive reply from them shortly. There are some pending approvals from KPA and we have assurances that everything is in order and it is now just a matter of their due process,â Mr Beckett wrote in an email response to Sunday Nation enquiries.
But Mr Oimeke denied knowledge of the Wednesday visit by his officers, saying the ERC had given the Nema conditions to certify the project, including approval from the KPA and the Kenya Navy.
The Mombasa Yacht Club, a private membersâ body which has been at the Kilindini Harbour for more than 100 years, expressed fears over the safety of its sailors, describing a possible accident due to its proximity to the site as âworse than a bombâ.
âThis construction by Mansa East Africa Ltd is an existential threat to us after serving the harbour for over 100 years. Development should be sustainable and not destructive,â the clubâs Vice Commodore Philips Jones wrote to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho.
The environmental regulator did not respond to our queries over the controversial licence although earlier communication shows it had objected to the projectâs location.
In September 2018, the Nemaâs county directorate based in Mombasa wrote to the Nairobi officeâs compliance and enforcement department, asking that an alternative site be found if the LPG project was to go on.
According to the officials then, the location was near the route for the propped overhead Mombasa city gate bridge that will be constructed to connect the Mombasa Island and Likoni.
âA petroleum facility should not be constructed and operated under or near the proposed Mombasa city gate bridge, which is a huge infrastructure and of great economic importance, for safety reasons. The site is not ideal for the proposed project and therefore the current application should be rejected or the proponent provides an alternative site,â the Nema wrote.
In an earlier letter where it had listed compliance requirements, the agency stated that there was need to confirm whether the plan was contained in the KPAâs masterplan as well as a comprehensive risk and incident management plan.
At this stage, the Nema was also concerned that the plant would be close to the navigation channel, Sacred Heart High School, residential and commercial areas, and asked the investors to consider an alternative site.
It remains unclear what prompted its change of heart but petroleum industry insiders link a powerful Nairobi-based politician to the plan.
In April 2018, the KPA, which owns the land where the project is to be set up, wrote to the Nema director-general citing reservations that had been raised on the project since late 2017.
The ports authority warned that apart from the project being outside the KPAâs masterplan, its close proximity to other marine facilities such as ship repair yards, docks and recreational areas would present an immense challenge to KPA in case of emergencies such as leakages, explosion and fire.
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