A key study on a proposed waterway link from the Bassac River to the sea in the Kampot-Kep region has been completed, the transport ministry reported, revealing plans for the project to connect to a “seaport” in Kampot province, igniting hopes for a solid pop in economic growth for the Kingdom.
News of the project was shared by a Ministry of Public Works and Transport statement released in conjunction with a January 30 meeting between minister Sun Chanthol and Rajeev Kannan, co-head of the Asia Pacific division at Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp (SMBC).
Although not explicitly named, the “seaport” is most likely the International Multi-Purpose Logistics and Port Centre, which broke ground in May on a 600ha plot of seafront land with water depth of 15m, in Prek Tnaot commune, Bokor town, Kampot. The project is expected to cost $1.5 billion – mainly invested by Kampot Logistics and Port Co Ltd – and accommodate ships weighing up to 100,000 tonnes.
The linked Bassac River Navigation and Logistics System (“BRNLS”) project aims to provide a viable and efficient alternative for waterway passenger and freight traffic to enter and exit the Kingdom – without passing through Vietnam – that also reduces transportation and logistics costs.
The Bassac River is a distributary of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers that starts in Phnom Penh and flows south to Kandal province’s Chrey Thom village in Koh Thom district, crossing the border into Vietnam. The Kingdom largely relies on the Ka’am Samnor gate on the Mekong for international water transport.
At the January 31 meeting, the minister told Kannan and his entourage that “detailed” studies of the BRNLS found that the excavations would not result in significant adverse effects, the statement noted.
The canal from the Bassac River to the Kampot seaport will ensure smoother, timelier, less costly inland water freight transportation, Chanthol said, assuring that the technical and legal aspects of the project have been studied “in detail”.
He also noted that the government is seeking development partners for the project, which he emphasised could be “historic” and dramatically change the face of the entire Cambodian navigation landscape.
The statement did not disclose any additional details concerning the project or the study.
Although not directly confirmed, the study appears to be the same one that the ministry mentioned in December, saying that it was working on it with the Chinese state-backed China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and CCCC Water Transportation Consultants Co Ltd, in the second of an undisclosed number of phases.
Kannan seemed receptive to the project, affirming that SMBC is keen to work with the ministry on investment opportunities in the port and logistics domain, according to the statement.
Much like the minister, Logistics and Supply Chain Business Association in Cambodia president Chea Chandara commented to The Post on February 1 that the new waterway route from the Bassac in Kandal province to the Kampot seaport would be “historic”.
The canal would provide a capacity boost for the local logistics sector, and improve the Kingdom’s international trade potential, especially on the export front, he posited.
“Water transportation is usually cheaper than land and air alternatives, and vessels allow larger volumes of cargo to be moved at once, without causing damage to roads or creating traffic congestion,” he said.
Chandara underscored the interdependence of transportation and production costs, and that investors “always” study a destination’s transportation infrastructure system before committing their money.
An expansive and diverse transportation system can be a “magnet” for investors, along with beneficial investment law amendments, simpler business procedures, better access to export markets, and “many” similar government initiatives, he said.
Cambodia Logistics Association (CLA) president Sin Chanthy echoed Chandara’s remarks, saying that the BRNLS would provide localities along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers with better access to the marine port, and otherwise produce a plethora of positive effects for the Kingdom.
In general, as transportation becomes faster and more convenient with the development of underlying systems, prices for related services will drop and more players will be in a viable position to compete on the market, he surmised.
“With this waterway, freight transportation from Cambodia to international markets – especially of agricultural commodities – will be easier and faster,” Chanthy said, pointing out that goods shipped from the Phnom Penh port to the Kampot or Preah Sihanouk seaports generally must first pass through Vietnam.
Although no starting point for the waterway link on the Bassac River has been officially announced, the ministry previously mentioned southeastern Kandal’s Prek Ambel village as a contender. And indeed, there is a distributary there, at GPS coordinates (11.243N, 105.026E), that flows southwest.