The government has primarily selected two foreign companies for implementing the Bay Terminal project although the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) expressed interest in implementing the mega development work itself with its own funds.
"With the funds available to the CPA, we can build the terminal phase by phase. It may be built in the same process as other port projects," said Rafiul Alam, executive engineer of the Chittagong Port.
"We have informed the ministry about our capacity. It is the decision of the government as to why foreign companies are associated with the project," said Rafiul, who is also the focal person for the Bay Terminal project.
The Chittagong Port Authority has about Tk10,000 crore of idle money. Nominating two foreign companies for the work has raised questions among the port officials.
The Ministry of Shipping recently nominated the PSA of Singapore and the Red Sea Gateway Terminal of Saudi Arabia to implement the Bay Terminal. A contract with one of these companies will be signed following the government-to-government policy through public-private partnership (PPP).
Several officials of the port authority said even if the Bay Terminal project is implemented by foreign companies, it will remain in operation for a specified time.
The CPA has sent a letter to the ministry, expressing its interest in implementing the project but has not yet received any response, said Rafiul Alam.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Bay Terminal construction project on November 1, 2016, as a priority project of the government.
A preliminary study of the project estimated its implementing cost at $200 million.
Acknowledging that the port has sent a letter to the shipping ministry expressing interest in implementing the project with its own money, CPA Secretary Md Omar Farooq said project stakeholders will be able to tell if there are any updates on the matter.
The port secretary further said the government had wanted to take away about Tk10,000 crore from the port treasury last year but did not take it.
When contacted, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury did not comment on selecting two foreign companies for the project.
Secretary of the ministry Mohammad Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury said, "Everything about the Bay Terminal project is still in the very early stages. The government has not yet decided on the port authorities' proposal of implementing the project with their funds."
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "We want a timeline for the construction of the Bay Terminal project. Year after year the Bay Terminal project is being talked about but nothing is happening. We cannot be reassured without a timeline."
How much work an organisation will do on the Bay Terminal project and the duration of the contract will depend on a new feasibility study report.
The new feasibility study has started, but it has been delayed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
According to Chittagong Port sources, in 2016, the HPC Hamburg Port Consulting and the KS Consultants Limited of Bangladesh jointly conducted a feasibility study under the leadership of the German company Shell Horn.
The report of the survey, which cost Tk6.5 crore, mentioned that the project would be implemented with its funds. Later, the government moved away from that decision and decided to do it on a PPP basis.
According to the preliminary survey, the project work is expected to complete by 2021. Later, a new feasibility study was decided to be conducted at a cost of Tk20 crore.
Twenty-one international organisations have so far shown interest in carrying out the feasibility study. One of them will be selected. The study was scheduled to start in June, but preparations were delayed by four months due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Port Bay Terminal project will be constructed on the sea coast of Patenga Halishahar area, six kilometres from the Chittagong port.
The project is about eight times the current operational area of Chittagong port. Once the terminal is built, it will be possible to berth ships with a carrying capacity of 5,000 containers.
At present, large ships with a depth of 9.5 metres and a length of 190 metres cannot enter the port.
The new terminal will be able to accommodate ships up to 12 metres deep and 280 metres long. There would be no need to rely on the tides to anchor ships.
Apart from 871 acres of private and government land, the terminal is expected to be built on 2,500 acres, including another 1,600 acres reclaimed from the sea.