The Chittagong Port Authority has proposed constructing a sea port at Matarbari in Cox’s Bazar with loan from Japan after it has abandoned the plan to build a deep-sea port just 25 kilometres away at Sonadia with Chinese financial assistance.
The decision is part of a geopolitical development over the Bay of Bengal, experts say.
The CPA has prepared a development project proforma for establishing the proposed Matarbari port at an estimated cost of Tk 18,580.60 crore, CPA officials told New Age on Saturday.
Of the amount, Japan International Cooperation Agency would provide Tk 13,252 crore, the Bangladesh government Tk 2,739.89 crore and the CPA Tk 2,587.86 crore.
According to the proposal, two jetties having a capacity of handling 8,000 TUEs (twenty-foot equivalent units) would be readied at Matarbari by 2026.
The jetties would make possible handling of more than three times the 2,500 TUEs daily now being handled at the Chittagong Port, said Zafar Alam, member (admin and planning) of the CPA.
He, however, said that they were not calling it a deep-sea port although a number of policymakers, including state minister for power, energy and mineral resources Nasrul Hamid, stated that the port will be turned into a deep-sea facility under the Moheshkhali-Matarbari Integrated Development Initiative.
The government has been trying to establish a deep-sea port in the Bay of Bengal against the saturation of the Chittagong Port that handled more than 80 per cent of the country’s sea-borne traffic worth US$ 95 billion in the just-concluded fiscal year (July –June).
In 2009, a feasibility study was carried out towards constructing a deep seaport at Sonadia but the present government decided against awarding the project to China in 2014.
Moreover, the government is trying to set up the country’s first deep-sea port at Payra in Patuakhali despite doubt by many about its long-term feasibility.
Former Chittagong University economics teacher Professor Mainul Islam has opined that the Payra port will not meet the need of a deep-sea port because of expensive dredging to be required for making the port operational for large container ships.
He has further viewed that Sonadia will be a most ideal place for a deep-sea port as its natural draft is over 15 metres.
But prime minister Sheikh Hasina did not award the construction work of the Sonadia port to China during her visit to Beijing in June 2014 because of a last-minute persuasion by Delhi, he said.
The rejection of China for the port work led to the dumping of the Sonadia port project and compelled Beijing to look for building an alternative deep-sea port in Myanmar for this region while India is constructing a road network through its seven-sister region to access the deep-sea port tin Myanmar.
Dhaka University’s former international relations teacher Professor Imtiaz Ahmed has noted that taking financial assistance from Japan, instead of China, for developing a port about at the same place might be due to political consideration.
Maybe the country’s policy makers find it more comfortable to stay with the US-Japan-India block in the growing geopolitics over the Bay of Bengal, he has said.
Professor Imtiaz has noted that the country needs to strike a right balance in dealing with other countries.
In March, finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said that a port would be built at Sonadia after construction of two deep-sea ports in Payra and Matarbari.
He also noted that the proposed deep-sea port at Sonadia was not a priority of the government right now.
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