One of the catalysts for the rapid growth of the township of Jesselton was its excellent harbour and port facilities. After theSecond World War, which saw destruction of its port, the first permanent wharf of 650 feet by 30 feet was completed near the present Customs area in 1957. Fundded by the USA Foreign Operation Administration, the wharf was built of concrete decking on ‘belian’ (ironwood) piles. In 1952, new electric light beacons were erected replacing obsolete and defective oil lamps. Bulk oil storage facilities were also built in 1958 at the port brought rubber from the rubber estates of Papar and Kinarut to be exported.
A new Customs and Marine Office was built in 1960 plus a port godown measuring 240 feet by 120 feet. Funds were also sought from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund to develop navigational aids and facilities in 1960 and to install lighthing of reefs and shoals in Jesselton harbour. By 1988, the first wharf was declared unsafe and decommissioned for use.
After independence, a second wharf was required to meet the incresing demands on the port and its facilities. In October 1967, the second wharf was fully commissioned. It was built at the Tanjung Lipat area, not to far away from the first wharf. It was partly funded by a World Bank loan of US16.1 million.
During the economic upturn in 1997, Kota Kinabalu port handled a record high of 90,508 teu (twenty equivalent units) of containers and 1,302,496 tons of general cargo. Export of containers totalled 44,914 teu while import of containers totalled 45,594 teu. The export of general cargo totalled 1,113,521 tons while import of general cargo totalled 188,975 tons.