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PPA seeks Tk 52b for new dredging scheme

Posted on May 14, 2024

Another Tk 52 billion has been sought for dredging just after the spending of Tk 65 billion mostly from Bangladesh’s scarce forex reserves for conducting capital-and-maintenance dredging of Payra seaport’s Rabnabad channel.

Some appear pessimistic in commenting on the port’s viability as it needs substantial forex from the country’s limited reserves and hiring foreigners who are expert in the maintenance-dredging job.

The Rabnabad channel is a 22-kilometre-long main navigation channel of the country’s third seaport which was dredged by spending 524 million Euros from forex reserves and some Tk 11 billion in local currency.

And the Payra Port Authority has now placed the new requirement to carry out maintenance dredging for two more years, sources said.

Meanwhile, the budget-management committee of the Ministry of Shipping in a recent meeting with shipping secretary Mostafa Kamal approved the new maintenance-dredging scheme involving Tk 52 billion, asking for “rational spending” of the proposed funds.

A hopper dredger will also be bought under the new scheme.

The new dredging scheme for the port, located in Kalapara sub-district in Patuakhali district, will be implemented by appointing a contractor and a consultant under direct- purchase method, as decided at the meeting.

The Tk 65.35 billion worth of capital-and-maintenance dredging has been conducted by Belgian company Jan De Nul.

Requested by the Payra Port Authority, the shipping ministry’s meeting recommended extending the tenure of the scheme by two more years without raising its expenditure as some of the works, including procurement of one hopper dredger under the scheme, remained incomplete.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on November 19, 2013 formally inaugurated the Payra seaport for limited operation before construction of a full-fledged port. Once the government had decided to build a deep-sea port in Payra but later took a u-turn in view of the water draft in the area linking the Bay of Bengal.

The port authority spent Tk 65 billion to dredge the main channel of the port to bring panamax-sized ships, needing water draft of up to 10.5 metres and having carrying capacity of 40,000 deadweight tonnes, in the jetties.

However, experts are sceptical about economic success of the port which every year may need millions of taka for dredging to keep the main channel navigable for larger vessels.

They found heavy silting as a main challenge at the site the port is being developed.

German marine geologist Hermann Kudrass in an interview with the FE few years back said after the passage of an intense cyclone, the port will not be accessible for a long time and ships there be trapped.

He said the excavation of the filled channel would cost another 500 million euros and need 11 dredgers to move into the area and operate for a year to reopen the channel. “Even weak cyclones combined with tides will fill the channel during the few days of their passage.”

Contacted, Payra Port Authority chairman Rear Admiral Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury could not ascertain how much money will be needed annually in the future to keep the main channel of the port navigable considering the heavy silting.

“The dredging cost mainly depends on dredger. Once the two dredgers are available, we will only need money to spend for buying oil to operate the dredgers,” he said.

Belgian company Jan De Nul had been using two to three Trailing Suction Hopper Dredgers for maintenance dredging during the last one year, he said, so “we may need to buy one more dredger after two years if geography changes”.

He sees “light at the end of the tunnel”, he says about potential use of the port. If public- sector importers of fertiliser and food-grains start using the port in full swing in line with the government directives, the earnings of the port will increase significantly.

Nasir Arif Mahmud, a former additional secretary of the ministry of shipping and then member-secretary of Deep Sea Port Proposal Evaluation Committee under the Prime Minister’s Office, told the FE presently only coal-and stone-carrying vessels anchor at the port.

“It is a non-feasible port,” he said, adding that DP World and Adani Group were requested to invest in Payra Port but they did not agree to do so since there is little chance of making profit by operating the port there.

Mr Mahmud pointed out that no techno-economic feasibility study had been conducted before site selection of Payra Port though it is “a must to know whether the port will be financially viable or not”.


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