The government is wary of approaching the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank for funding of the $2.28bn (Tk177.5bn) deep sea port as suggested by its consulting firm, apparently because of the Padma bridge funding scandal.
Instead, the shipping ministry has assigned the foreign ministry and finance ministry’s external resources division to search out alternative funders for the proposed port in Cox’s Bazar’s Sonadia, which would require more than $1.21bn in foreign support.
“We have assigned the foreign ministry and the ERD to look for a financier as the government is determined to build the deep sea port at any cost. Hopefully they will come up with some funders,” shipping minister Shajahan Khan told the Dhaka Tribune.
However, Japan’s Pacific Consultant International (PCI), the firm that conducted the techno-economic feasibility study for the port, suggested that the government seeks funding from World Bank, ADB, Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and other donors.
China is the only country to have come up with a specific offer, expressing willingness to invest $1.5bn on a build-operate-transfer basis. However, it wants to run the port for 60 years before handover, double the time for such deals in international practice.
Danish group, Maersk, and Dutch companies have also shown interest, shipping ministry officials said.
The ministry’s joint secretary, Nasir Arif Mahmood, who is coordinating the deep sea port project, told the Dhaka Tribune: “I think we are unlikely to seek funding from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for the project.”
The foreign ministry and the ERD are expected to report to the Prime Minister’s Office and the shipping minister with their suggestions by the end of June.
The deep sea port would ensure a stable position for Bangladesh in regional trade as due to its strategic location, a number of neighbouring countries including India, are considering cross boundary trading options using its port facilities. However, Chittagong and Mongla port cannot host large ships due to depth limitations. The depth of Chittagong port is between 8.5 metres and 9.2 metres,but big vessels require at least 12 metres.
The proposed deep sea port would have more than 14 metres of draft. The feasibility study pointed out that Bangladesh’s sea-borne trade has been growing at a rate of 10%a year and said the proposed port could serve the big ships making it a regional hub hosting cargo from India, China and other countries.
The Indian investment in its northeastern states will increase many fold in future. Chittagong port and the deep sea port in Sonadia are the best options for Delhi to unload its cargo which will move to the seven-sister states by railway. Bangladesh and India have already started implementing the Akhaura-Agartala rail link which will be the principal route for carrying the cargo to the northeastern states.
“The deep sea port has huge potential provided we can utilise the opportunities for our national interests,” Khurshed Alam, foreign ministry additional secretary, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Former Chittagong port chairman Omor Hadi said: “The increased volume of goods from eight export processing zones and the cargo expected from Nepal, Bhutan, Yunan province of China and the landlocked northeastern states of India will hamstring the Chittagong and Mongla ports.”
He said without traffic from other regional countries, the proposed deep sea port would not be economically viable.