FIRST SHIPMENT AT GWADAR PORT

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER, QUETTA
Mar 24 - 30, 2008

First shipment at Gwadar port has cost dearly to the local company, which had chartered a Panamax class vessel, Post Glory for importing 72,900 metric tons of wheat from Canada. The vessel, which arrived on March 10, was not allowed to berth at the port and stopped at the outer anchorage for the lighterage. A vessel from Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC), M V Hyderabad had been engaged for lighterage and around 9,000 tons of wheat were unloaded before the Post Glory was allowed to berth at the Gwadar Port.

This January, the government had given the Trade Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) a task to import around 1.73 million tonnes of wheat to meet its domestic shortfall. The company was expecting a saving of US$17 per metric ton by anchoring the ship at Gwadar instead of country's other ports of Bin Qasim and Karachi, as Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), the operator of Gwadar port, had offered concessional rates as compared to the country's other ports for unloading the imported wheat at the port. Lighterage of the weight of Post Glory into another vessel was carried out and the process of discharging wheat created extra financial burden on the company, as it had hired another vessel, technical staff, required machinery and labors, besides the demurrage charges.

Gwadar port has ultimately become operational with the arrival of first ship. Chinese-built new port of Gwadar in Balochistan, has so far been non-functional even after it had been officially inaugurated in March last year. The arrival of Panamax class vessel, M. V. Post Glory loaded with wheat at Gwadar and its anchorage to the port however raised some issues and risks on technical grounds.

SPECIFICATIONS & LIMITATIONS OF THE PORT

The arrival of first vessel at the territorial waters of Gwadar port this month has arisen many technical questions about specifications and parameters of Pakistan's first deep-sea port for berthing a Panamax class vessel. M. V. Post Glory was a Panamax class vessel with a draft of 14 metres. It has an official speed of 15.6 knots and 10177 MT light-ship-weights with a 39,964 gross international tonnage and 26,025 net tonnages. The ship is owned by White Cherry Shipping S.A and operated by Cido Shipping, South Korea. It failed to meet the specifications and parameters of Gwadar Port with the approach channel and berths presently having a draft of not more than 12.5 metre.

RISKS INVOLVED IN BERTHING OF HUGE VESSEL

The local experts had already pointed out the risks involved in allowing berth to the huge vessel at new port of Gwadar, asking the government to berth the vessel at Karachi Port instead of Gwadar. Experts had warned the arrival of the huge vessel to unload wheat at new port of Gwadar may damage the jetty with a designed capacity of 50,000 dead weight tonnage (DWT) and hence it would not bear the pressure and load of the vessel having 72,000 DWT. Similarly, the port has only two tugs of 30 tons Bollard Pull, whereas the Panamax vessel needs at least two tugs of 60 tons for turning it within the 480-metre basin of the port. The experts apprehend that if the 30 tons tugs are used for this huge vessel it may swing them and cause some mishap.

The critics accuse Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) of not maintaining draft of approach channel and of berths by doing regular dredging, as at the time of official opening of the port last March, it had a 14-metre draft. Some local experts believe that the draft has reduced due to accumulation of silt, as last year there had been cyclones and heavy monsoon rains which must have added silt.

On the other hand, Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), the operator of Gwadar port, was confident in handling the transaction at Gwadar port. The stevedoring company had arranged all necessary equipment including machinery etc for the PSA to handle the ship.

The Singaporean port operators plan to reduce draft of the 76,508dwt vessel through sucking machinery by taking 18,000 MT bulk wheat from Post Glory, which had hit outer-anchorage of the newly constructed port on Monday. The lighterage of the 225-meter long vessel is being carried out by another ship from PNSC at the outer-anchorage. After lighterage, 14.038-meter summer draft of Post Glory will reduce to 12.5 meter from the present 13.9-meter.

The China Harbor Engineering Company Group (CHECG), which had completed the first phase, had also advised the government not to allow arrival of huge vessel as the two berths of 600-metre quay wall at the port have a designed capacity of only 50,000 DWT.

GWADAR AS A HUB PORT

Gwadar port has been designed as a hub port. On what specifications a port may be classified as hub port? Generally speaking, a hub port has the capacity to accommodate mother ships of Post Panamax category. According to the experts, any port having less than 14.5 meters draught of its approach channel cannot accommodate mother ships of Post Panamax category.

Consequently, ships with 25,000 to 30,000 DWT can only be accommodated or container carriers with capacity of 2,000 TEUs can be given berths. However, if the depth is of 14.5 metres and above for approach channel and berths, mother ships with 50,000 DWT and 4,000 TEUs could call at a port. For Gwadar port, however, the ships of larger size are not presently on drawing boards and the experts only recommend the arrival of smaller ships with 25,000 to 40,000 DWT at the port.

GWADAR PROJECT, A VICTIM OF LETHARGY

The critics call the last year's opening as "artificial opening" of the port, as the project has seen no significant progress or investment particularly on operational side since then. The ship agents and cargo consultants are still waiting for the announcement of port tariff by the GPA. Contrary to the official claim, the port could not become operational by the end of last year. Gwadar Port Authority (GPA) has even not yet announced the port tariff.

The Singaporean operators have also been under criticism of local analysts. The former government of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had repeatedly asked the port operators to expedite the work for making the port operational. Under concession agreement, the concession-holder Singaporean firm is committed to the provision of cargo handing and marine services and development of an export processing zone. Why have Singaporean operators not delivered so far? Why it has not made significant investment to make the port operational?

Still Gwadar port lacks high power tugs and pilot boats and other port equipments, which are essential to make the port operational. The Singaporean company has so far installed two gantry cranes, which are 22-year old re-built cranes. Since its launch in March 2002, the project has been the victim of lethargy. Local experts see the unprofessional decisions, incompetence and lack of experience as key causes of delay for developing the mega port at Gwadar and making it functional by the scheduled period of time.