East coast and Southern Africa are places well worth exploring. But the trouble is, it‘s a bit complicated to get there from Europe or Asia by land. Since the turbulence in countries around South and East coast of Mediterranean sea started, the ferry operations from Turkey to Egypt were stopped and never reinstated. So to get to Egypt, one has to take a ferry from Turkey, Italy or Greece to Israel and then, if on motorcycle or 4x4, take another ferry from Jordan to Egypt, as the land border crossing is currently forbidden for such vehicles.
We didn‘t consider this route as after exploring Iran we would have to go back North into Turkey. And in late November it would mean a lot of cold riding for us. Another, geographically more convenient way would have been to take a ferry from South coast of Iran over the Persian gulf to United Arab Emirates, then transit Saudi Arabia and get on a ferry over the Red sea to Sudan. In a car that may have been possible, if Saudi Arabia would have issued a transit visa for us (that is the only possible option at the moment as tourist visa to this country simply doesn‘t exist yet) which would allow us 3 days to cross the country (a distance of about 1500 km), get to Jeddah and hop on a ferry to Port Sudan. We heard about some people successfully doing while leaving Africa and going the opposite direction, but it could not work for us because of two reasons: one being the fact that we are not officially married and the Arabs would not issue a visa for a single woman - they require the marriage certificate, and even if I would fake the otherwise non-important document, we would be stopped by the second reason: women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia (yes, it has been decided to remove this ban, but it will only go into effect from 2018 while we needed to get to Africa in the end of 2017...).
So the most appealing way to get to Africa was to ship our motorcycles from Iran to Kenya. We checked the prices of flying them from Tehran to Nairobi, but about EUR 2000 per bike didn‘t look attractive, so we decided to go with sea freight. We came around two options: a Tehran based shipping agency offered us to ship the motorcycles with Maersk, but the transit times were rather long because they would go through Dubai or even Mumbai as Maersk doesn‘t have a direct connection between Iran and Kenya. Meanwhile the Iranian sea transport company IRISL does have a direct line from Bandar Abbas on the South coast of Iran to Mombasa port in Kenya. The transit time was supposed to be 13-14 days. So we went for that option.
Part 1: Loading the container in Iran
Lady named Sara from the local agency called Giti Pars Ltd. in Bandar Abas, visited us in our hotel the same night we arrived to the city. She checked if our documents were fine and went on with 20‘ container reservation for us. Weekend in Iran is on Thursday and Friday, so we had to wait through those days and then on Saturday she arranged the permits for us to enter the port territory so we could start the process required to load our motorcycles into the container.
Together with her partner, Sara handled all our paperwork (nobody spoke English in the port and even Sara‘s English skills were very limited, but she did her best to keep us informed of what is going on) and eventually the next day we had a container allocated to us and put down on the ground for loading. Sara‘s colleagues took care of the straps and everything else that was needed to securely fasten the motorcycles in the container. It took us two long days to get everything done (with long gaps of waiting for this or that in between doing something). We left our Carnets with them so they would get the stamps of exportation in and soon left Iran on a plane.
The total amount we paid in Iran was USD 1370 (we had to do it in cash, cause international bank transfers or foreign credit cards don‘t work in Iran). That included all the Iranian port costs, customs fees and Sara‘s services.
Part 2: Getting worried
It all seemed like a very smooth process in the beginning and the ship with our motorcycles on it, was supposed to leave the coast of Iran on the 29th of November. This was supposed to be the perfect date for us as we were hoping to get the motorcycles out of the port in Kenya before Christmas festivities started... But on 29th we were informed that the ship is not moving until the 7th of December. Finally, on the 7th we were told that it is going to leave on the 12th! That caused some stress for us and made the arrival date to be scheduled right on Christmas which meant that we might have stuck in Mombasa until January if the institutions would have been closed throughout the Christmas – New Year week.
Also, our Carnets were still in Iran with Sara and the original Bill of Lading – a general document we needed to have in order to be able to claim our belongings from the port, was not issued by IRISL until the 20th of December. Luckily, Sara finally received it on the 21st and urgently sent it to us to Mombasa by DHL.
The ship arrived to Mombasa port on 24th of December – right on Christmas Eve...
Part 3: Retrieving the motorcycles from the port in Kenya
The first day when both the port and the Kenyan customs authorities were working, was 27th of December. At 8 AM we got to DHL office and luckily were able to pick up our documents. At 9 AM a local agent Yusuf picked us up with his car and we started the process with the shipping company and the port. Everything would have been a bit easier and cheaper for us in Mombasa, if the shipment wouldn‘t have been marked as „house-to-house“ when leaving Iran. If we or Sara would have had more experience in shipping vehicles, we would had marked it as „house-to-pier“ and then we would have been able to roll the motorcycles out of container right in the port. Also, Mombasa port is a very busy port, so they distribute their containers throughout many inland locations they have around Mombasa area. It is important to inform the shipper that you will want to the container stripped (unloaded) in the port so they keep it there and later you don‘t get charged for container transportation from the port to one of the inland storage locations. We were lucky that our container was located in the port, but due to „house-to-house“ mark we had to take the container out of the port instead of unloading it there. But first things first...
The shipping company issued an invoice for container handling. The amount was equal to about USD 272. Plus they required a USD 500 deposit for the container to allow us to take it out of the port. Yusuf handled the deposit part himself, we paid the rest in the bank. Then he got the permits for us to enter the port and took us to the customs office. There they stamped our Carnets, registered the motorcycles in an ancient looking journal and went to inspect the contents of the container looking for drugs or anything illegal. The inspection was very short and relaxed. Then we had to pay USD 365 more as per the invoice issued by the port authorities. Again we had to do it using cash at the local bank in the port territory. Eventually, on the same day, Yusuf hired a truck for USD 150, the port loaded our container on it and we took it to the closest ramp we could find. We had to pay USD 60 to the people of the local tea company which owned the ramp and helped us to open the container and roll motorcycles out. At about midnight we were finally riding our motorcycles in Kenya – Yusuf escorted us in his car to the gas station and then to the place where we were staying.
Next morning we met him for final calculations and payments. He charged us USD 300 for his services, which wasn‘t the lowest price available, but having in mind that he took us through the whole process in one (long) day without any hiccups, we think he‘s worth it.
Total cost of getting the motorcycles out of the port in Kenya was USD 1147.
So all in all shipping two motorcycles in a „private“ 20‘ container from Iran to Kenya cost us USD 2517, or USD 1258,5 per motorcycle.
The agency which offered to ship with Maersk for a total of USD 1425:
Ms. Sareh Karoubi
Sadaat Sorat Int‘l Transport & Shipping Agency
Mobile: +98 912 254 9116
Their partner agent in Mombasa:
Monicah Muema – firstname.lastname@example.org
The agency we used for shipping with IRISL for a total of USD 1370: