Abdallah Bakari 20 July 2011 [HR][/HR]Mtwara - Four international companies have declared interests to invest in gas and oil exploration in Mtwara Region, it was announced here on Tuesday. Briefing the minister for Transport, Mr Omari Nundu, when he visited Mtwara port this week, the Mtwara port manager, Mr Werna Mpiri, said the companies have agreed to use the port as a gas and oil supply base in East Africa. He named them as Petrobras, Statoil, BG and Ophir saying the move will increase the use of the port whose current use is below 30 per cent of capacity. "Apart from the last government financial year when production of cashew nuts was high, the port has been working below 30 per cent of its capacity," he said, explaining: "We have got a ten-year Port Master Plan from 2009 to 2028 during which we expect to increase the amount of exports and imports from the current 150,000 tonnes to 12.2 million tonnes annually the exploration of gas and oil from Mtwara will help us meet the targets," he said. Mr Mpiri said at present the port faced a number of challenges like poor infrastructure and failure to operate commercially because there were a few ships calling at the port. He gave the example of last year when the port handled only 201 ships. For his part, Mr Nundu said the government has decided to utilize Mtwara port in order to push the Mtwara corridor development initiatives which would develop the economy of the area and its people. "It is high time that Mtwara port was used effectively. We want to develop the economy of the area and this port has great potentials for trade with Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia. What is needed is only to be ready to work hard."