The Daily Star
Shipping Minister Md Afsarul Amin yesterday urged multilateral lenders to finance development of a deep-sea port at Sonadia Island to help accommodate large vessels and emerge as a regional hub in future.
A deep-sea port is essential to meet future exports and import demand and serve regional markets, the minister said.
His remarks came at a workshop on a "techno-economic feasibility study of a deep-sea port" in Bangladesh at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, where Pacific Consultant International (PCI), a Japanese firm, presented its findings.
Amin said Bangladesh could be turned into a commercially important country like Singapore with the implementation of the proposed deep seaport project.
“If we can implement the deep seaport project at Sonadia Island in time and maintain the standard of service we may expect a new Singapore within Bangladesh,” he said, adding that the deep seaport might be a major vehicle of economic development of Bangladesh.
Dr Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Eddy Declercq, private sector expert of PCI, and Nobuaki Nagao, team leader of PCI, spoke at the programme organised by the Ministry of Shipping. Parliamentarians, businessmen, bureaucrats and representatives from global lenders were also present.
The country's two main ports, Chittagong and Mongla, cannot handle medium and large vessels, which means feeder vessels are extensively used to carry out overseas trade.
PCI predicts that implementation of the first phase of the project by 2016 would cost $ 2.2 billion.
The shipping minister invites the country's development partners to actively consider the funding of this project. "I am sure you will find the project viable for large investment,” he said.
The PCI study said the deep-sea port would generate additional income, create new jobs and industries, reduce freight rates for containers and general cargo vessels, and shorten shipping times for both exporters and importers.
The PCI study observed that the impact on regional transit cargo at the deep-sea port would be marginal but local demand would be enough to generate a positive rate of return in the years ahead.
It said the geographic location of Bangladesh could play a major role in regional trade and act as a gateway for the region to the rest of the world.
On that note, Amin expects cargo to also come from Nepal, Bhutan, and possibly Myanmar, China and the landlocked northeastern states of India.
“Since there is no operational deep sea port in Myanmar and on the east coast of India, there is a possibility that a deep-sea port in Bangladesh can provide services to these areas. In addition, it can also support the Chittagong and Mongla ports in handling an increased volume of export and import cargos,” he said.
"In this context, we expect the deep-sea port to be a major vehicle to the economic development of Bangladesh, like in Hong Kong and Singapore,” he said. “If we can implement the deep sea port in time and maintain a standard of services, we can expect a new Singapore or Hong Kong within Bangladesh.”
Referring to the cost of implementing the first phase, he unveiled the government's plan to patronise a public-private partnership to develop the new deep-sea port. He also said the Chittagong Port Authorities would invest in the project to be a major shareholder.
PCI recommended the setting-up of an interim port authority to execute the implementation of the project.
“It (study) shows that the deep-sea port will be viable if we use our own cargo. But it needs to be seen whether we will require scaling up of investment if we use other's cargo,” said Rahman.
He also suggested examining various aspects such as the impact of the port on economic growth, investment needed from the government and regulatory arrangements.
“Obviously, it will facilitate economic growth. But the question lies in how much it will grow and whether the benefits of growth could be distributed regionally,” he said.
"If our preparations are proper, the next steps become easier,” said Rahman.
He also pointed to harmonisation of duties to attract transit cargo, agreement with countries, fixing of tariff rates and increased investment on road, water and rail transport for faster delivery.