Belgian company Jan de Nul will begin a 14-month capital dredging in the Rabnabad channel in the southwestern coastal area at the end of June to allow movement of medium-sized ships at the Payra seaport, official sources said.
The Belgian company will dredge a 65km stretch of the channel, ensuring a draft of 10.5 metres that would allow entry and anchoring of ships having a capacity of carrying 40,000 tonnes (during low tide) to 55,000 tonnes (during high tide).
The Chattogram port, which has a 9.5-metre draft, can handle ships up to 35,000 tonnes. The outer anchorage of Chattogram port in Kutubdia can accommodate 1,00,000-tonne ships.
Import of goods on larger ships significantly reduces the transport cost if they can be anchored at the port instead of the outer anchorage.
The Tk5,600 crore contract for capital dredging will be signed with Jan de Nul at the end of this month. The government is financing it from its newly formed Bangladesh Infrastructure fund.
After 14 months, the company will continue maintenance dredging in the channel for another two years.
The Payra Port Authority would be fully involved with the dredging work. By the end of Jan de Nul's capital dredging work, the Payra Port Authority is expected to purchase its own dredgers and gradually take over maintenance dredging.
The Bay of Bengal deals with the world's highest volume of sediments carried by Bangladeshi rivers. This poses a challenge for Bangladeshi ports to host large ships.
Jan de Nul has been involved with the Payra port project – first envisioned as a deep-sea port – since 2016. The company was tasked with bringing in an investment of Tk11,000 crore under a public-private partnership which it eventually could not do.
Meanwhile, the government revised its plan and decided to downgrade the deep-sea port project to a seaport project and fund the capital dredging work from its own pocket. This decision has slashed the project cost by 53%.
The Belgian company already has two dredging contracts with the government. It completed the first contract for capital dredging in the same channel to ensure a draft of 6.3 metres to allow movement of coal-carrying ships for the two-unit 1,300 megawatt Payra Coal Power Project. The second contract is for the maintenance of that draft.
"Each month, around 10 ships with a capacity of 20,000 to 30,000 tonnes of coal are coming to the Payra port now," said an official. This coal is being used to generate power in one unit of the large Payra power plant built by China.
As per a directive by the prime minister, the port may be turned into a deep-sea port after it reaches breakeven and develops support infrastructure.
According to State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, if the port begins operation in full swing next year, it would achieve breakeven by 2035.
The Payra Seaport project, which has 19 components, had an original estimated cost of between $11 billion and $15 billion and was supposed to be completed in three phases.
The Rabnabad channel is situated in the Meghna estuary at Tentulia River in Patuakhali. It is about 270km from the Chattogram Port and 90km from the Mongla Port. This site was chosen as it has available land along the channel with an average height of two metres above sea level. The land does not get submerged during the monsoon and it is well connected by road and river networks.
According to a techno-feasibility study prepared by the British farm HR Wallingford & Consortium, the Payra port will require 7,000 acres of land. Of that, 6,000 acres will be used for port development, 500 acres for coal terminal and the rest for the resettlement of people affected by the construction of the port.