The Mtwara Port is set to expand substantially in order to cope with the gas discoveries made in the south of the country.

The discovery of gas in the south of the country has led to a glut of infrastructure works across Tanzania, with Mtwara Port at the forefront of logistics upgrades.

Alongside Dar es Salaam and Tanga, Mtwara forms a triumvirate of ports operated by the Tanzania Ports Authority. The port has a long history, originally being constructed between 1948 and 1954 by the British colonial authorities in order to partly replace the port at Simonstown in South Africa. When the country initially became independent as Tanganyika in 1961, the facility fell into disrepair. Indeed, a road between Mtwara and Dar es Salaam has been 50 years in the making. In its current form, the port can handle 400,000 tons of imports and exports per year, and deals mainly in conventional cargo. In storage terms, the port can speak of four transit sheds with a total capacity of 15,000 tons. But just as it seemed the port was forever resigned to obscurity, the discovery of between 43 trillion and 51 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas has breathed new life into the once gleaming maritime hub. To cope with the influx of cargo into the region to support gas drilling efforts, the port's management has seen fit to launch an expansion project.

Taking the first steps, a round of bidding was held in September 2014 to rehabilitate and expand the port, with a number of Asian firms leading the pack. The upcoming works will boost capacity to some 28 million tons per year, with the final decision expected later in 2014. News that the port would undergo an expansion first emerged in 2013, when the government announced the investment of $214 million in the facility in order to bring it up to international standards. Not wanting to go it alone, an agreement was thus signed with the Japanese government to carry out preliminary studies.

The port itself is also planning to invest $1.7 million in port infrastructure, including working equipment such as cranes and tractors. And there's plenty of space to work with; 263 hectares have been acquired, and future works are anticipated to boost the berthing capacity from four ships to seven. As an extension, another 100 hectares have been acquired for the establishment of a free port zone, while 400 hectares have been earmarked for hydrocarbon processing.

The future certainly looks good for Mtwara, the government also announcing that it is teaming up with Nigerian firm Dangote to build a cement factory near the town. That will require a railway to link up the facility with the port, a network that could one day be expanded to serve the population of Mtwara, which is, as a result of recent developments, expected to surge tenfold to 1.3 million by 2025. As a sign of things to come, land prices in Mtwara's Shengani neighborhood have tripled in the past year alone.

Despite it likely being some years before the gas begins flowing, Mtwara is one hotspot that will get to see the benefits far in advance, with the port gearing up to handle a huge influx of cargo to support drilling works. And once the gas begins to flow, Mtwara Port should have plenty to keep it busy for many years to come.