Posted on February 8, 2023
The government has approved the maintenance dredging of a navigational channel of Gwadar Port with an escalated cost of Rs4.7 billion – a drastic increase from Rs1bn estimated in June 2022 – to avoid any mishap to cargo ships or imposition of penalties from Chinese port operators for business loss.
The navigation channel of the port was last cleared in 2014-15 but had since developed sedimentation of clay, sand and mud and gravelly coarse sand at most of the places. This was resulting in the diversion of bigger ships as the port could handle around 30,000 dead weight tonnage (DWT) ships rather than the designed capacity of allowing 50,000 DWT.
Official sources said the key factor behind the cost escalation was that the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs had developed the dredging project in June last year at Rs1bn on guesstimates in emergency circumstances when a couple of 50,000DWT cargo ships had to be diverted due to navigational challenges. However, the costs had to be increased based on a proper study conducted by Pakistan Navy followed by competitive bidding. The project is to take off immediately.
The project approved by the government envisaged maintenance dredging of a 4.7-km-long navigational channel, basin and berthing area of Gwadar port. Its internal navigational channel and turning basin design depth is 13.8 meters for safe navigation of deep draft vessels and the berthing area and outer channel is dredged to 14.5 meters to permit safe berthing and sufficient clearance from the bottom in low tides. The channel is designed for the navigation of 50,000 DWT ships during all weather.
Under the fundamental law of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), it is mandatory to keep safe navigation of vessels in ports. The Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) is required to accomplish the international contractual obligation under relevant clauses of the concession agreement China Overseas Ports Holding Company Ltd (COPHC) to keep Gwadar Port Channel in a safe zone, prevent claims and loss in Gwadar Port business and to meet the requirements of international shipping market which demands safety of navigation and safe port operations.
The maintenance dredging had already been delayed for a few years which “could have serious repercussions in terms of penalties and damages” that might have been imposed on GPA by the Concession Holder due to loss in business or grounding of ships. The project, after completion, is targeted at enhancing port efficiency by facilitating safe and quick inward and outward vessel traffic, without having to wait for the tide or face berthing difficulties due to inadequate depth of water.
It may also enhance revenues of the port in the shape of an increased share from port charges.