Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as per top news item in Business Recorder of 20th December, 2016, has directed the inclusion of KCR and Keti Bandar, part of CPEC KCR had been and still a most viable project as per study of JICA, to cater the needs of Karachi Suburbs. It was well utilized before its closure, so, it may be gift to Karachiites, a city of 25 million people, with no mass transit, congested roads with rickety buses. Railway must remove the encroachment first. As far as Keti Bandar is concerned, in past I, recall Mr. Gilani the Prime Minister-elect of Pakistan People Party (PPP) in his opening speech promised to give nation a new port Keti Bandar along with 100 days priority agenda, however, the government failed miserably to deliver on any agenda item.
It is a welcome sign for all Pakistanis in particular for seafaring community and maritime professionals that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promised to give a kick start subject to approval of joint co-operation committee, but Chinese will insist for feasibility study.
Port Qasim was also conceived in the 70’s and it is likely to turn into Industrial Hub Port by 2025. Whilst Port Qasim is helping the nation but it is seriously affected by silting due to be in the proximity of Indus Delta and South West Monsoon. The annual maintenance dredging cost runs into 1 billion rupees to maintain 12.0 meter draft. The plans are on way to deepen the port to 14 meter costing about 140 million US dollar. Present annual dredging BOQ is 5 million cubic meter and when dredged further, it is estimated that annual maintenance dredging will be around 10 million cubic meter thus costing in excess of 2-3 billions rupees to maintain the desired depth. When Port Qasim was conceived i.e. returning to old medieval site of Indus River Port Dewal, which was conquered by Mohammad in Qasim (a history of Indis by J.C. Powell, A Voyage on Indus by Alexander Burnes 1831).
The initial planners and hydrographers at the time of conceiving the Port faltered and could not rightly estimate the annual maintenance dredging quantum and cost which was far low comparing as of today’s 5/USD per cubic meter and cutter dredging cost of USD 20/- per cubic meter. Furthermore channel is 40 km with sharp bends restricting night navigation, when compared to Karachi, Pakistan Deep water container Port and Gwadar of 3.5 km, where vessel can berth/sail 24/7/365. Time is money for ships and ship owners of today and economy of scale is the key to profitability, thus deep drafts are required. Non availability of night navigation for deep draft and long channels are considered as dis-advantage in Port planning. I, sincerely hope that proper feasibility study of Keti Bandar may be carried out.
It is presumed that planners of Keti Bandar may study the geological history of Indus delta, coastal hydraulic survey, currents, littoral drift, hydraulic model studies, coastal geomorphology, Alexander Burnes surveys of river Indus and earthquake epic centre and geologic structure of Indus Basin whilst carrying out hydrographic survey, wave patterns, forming of breakers in monsoon and the coast being low and not discernable except at close quarters for the safety of navigation.
Whilst referring to Indus Delta Map Keti Bandar is approachable via Hajamaro Creek, which runs beyond Ghora Bari. Since no hydrographic and other studies are available which were carried out in last decade, it could be any body’s guess that how much dredging will be required to meet today’s generation vessels of 14/16 meter draft and thereafter quantum of annual maintenance dredging to maintain the channel.
It is presumed that a proper feasibility by competent hydrographers and port consultants be carried out evaluating dredging and maintenance cost bearing in mind high cost at Port Qasim.
The other aspect to be borne in mind is excellent hinter land connectivity before port is built. We must learn from the experience of Gwadar port, which is still handicapped due to nonexistent hinterland connectivity. It is imperative that hard core professionals having experience of port development may be engaged and this assignment of national importance may not be left at the mercy of generalist having no track of maritime faculty.
We must also learn from the experience of dredging cost at Port Qasim and that of our neighbors i.e. India, Bangladesh and Thailand etc. The Hoogly River has silted Kolkatta Port thus forcing development of new port of Haldia at the mouth of Hoogly, Mumbai offshore port, Colombo south port, Chittagong offshore port at Juldia, so has been the case in Bangkok, where new port has been developed at the mouth of the river to cater deep draft vessels of 4th and fifth generation.
The next generation vessels are post Panamax needing 16/18 meter depth and futuristic vision is Suezmax, Malaca Max of 21 meter, thus in all probability a site which is prone to heavy siltation being in Indus Delta costing billions in dredging and thereafter incurring annual maintenance dredging cost of billions, may only be considered after hydrographic surveys and financial feasibility to cater deep draft vessels of future.
We, must have more ports to develop the region and to cater our futuristic needs. Port development is a science and all issues have to be addressed professionally to cater the futuristic development in the maritime industry.
India has 12 major ports and 185 small ports and they are investing 15 billion US dollar in port sector and 12 billion dollar in developing quadruple triangle i.e. logistics connecting all major cities to cater over 1 billion tons of Impo/Expo by 2020. India is improving its inland water ways and launched Sagar Mela Project.
It is a welcome announcement, however, a proper latest feasibility be carried out bearing in mind that it may take 10 years to port be operational from the drawing board, thus ships calling after a decade and their specification be bench marked to make a success story for our future generation.
Since a policy statement has been made thus same must be duly supported with credible latest studies, thus it is expected that the democratic government will make all plans public and will consider the views of local expertise available in selection of site.
Needless to mention as per historical fact the River Indus had many ports in the past i.e. Patala, Debal, Lahori Bandar, Shah Bandar, Gharo, Keti Bandar, Vikar, Daragi and Bambhore, these ports were destroyed due to the ravages of Indus river or by the change of its course, thus we must learn from the history and a very scientific and cautious approach is recommended in selecting the site of new port.
Meantime, we must concentrate to make new commercial Port Pakistan deep water container Port and Gwadar fully operational and optimum utilization of Karachi and Port Qasim. It is equally important to do traffic fore casting and our needs for 25/50 years.
Pakistan growth is hanged on CPEC thus, we may embark on project with caution. God Bless Pakistan.
The writer is Adviser to Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry