Jan 26 - Feb 01, 2009

Gwadar Port in Balochistan will be fully functional by 2015, according to the official sources. Some 1007 tons of urea and 63,000 tons of wheat have been imported at Gwadar Port since it started operations. With a depth of 14.5 meters as against 11.12 meters of Karachi Port, Gwadar has the capacity to handle Panamax ships. Six ships have already been berthed at Gwadar and five more will arrive this month carrying 344.226 million tons of wheat, according to Chairman Gwadar Port Authority, Rear Admiral Ehsan Saeed (Rtd).

Gwadar port has been designed as a hub port, which 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. 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. 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. New port of Gwadar has so far been non-functional even after it had been officially inaugurated in March 2007. The arrival of Panamax class vessel, M. V. Pos Glory loaded with wheat at Gwadar last year in March and its anchorage to the port however raised some issues and risks on technical grounds.

The arrival of first vessel arose many questions about specifications and parameters of Pakistan's first deep-sea port for berthing a Panamax class vessel.

Initially, Gwadar port will be used as captive cargo or for trans-shipment purposes only. According to the official plan, the initial development on operational side consists of operations of the current multi-purpose terminal and further expansion thereof in the easterly direction at the northern side of the port. Over a period of time, this will result in a total quay-side length of 4.5 km. The port authorities claim that foreign vessels may come and unload their goods at Gwadar. The federal government has already provided the additional funding to install the required equipment, complete the civil work and build roads linking the port with provincial capital Quetta and other upcoming areas. The 15-year physical development program of the Gwadar port includes the construction of multipurpose terminal, container terminal, LNG terminal, chemicals terminal and clean dry bulk terminal and liquid bulk terminal.

The critics have been attacking the port's master plan, quality of equipment and the manpower at the port. Some local experts criticize the quality of boats and equipment, including pilot boats, tugs and cranes saying the equipment do not meet the requirement of a modern container terminal. They contend that two under-powered pilot boats and the two tugs purchased from China were not only too weak to confront the offshore winds in Gwadar but also would not be able to pull the mother-ships, with 30,000 to 50,000 DWT.

Critics accuse the Gwadar Port Implementation Authority (GPIA) of showing incompetence and lack of professionalism in managing the affairs of the Gwadar port, which is located close to a strategic shipping route- Strait of Hormuz.

The two-phase program of port construction is being supervised by Tianjin Zhongbei Harbour Engineering Supervision Corporation of China (TZHESC). The total cost of Gwadar port project is estimated at $1.6 billion. While China has so far contributed about $198 million, Pakistan has allocated US$50 million for the project. The first phase was completed by the China Harbor Engineering Company Group (CHECG) in November 2004 when a cargo vessel from China carrying 4000 tons of goods berthed at the Gwadar port. The port then needed a draught of 14.5 meters and above, as it had been designed as a hub port. China under an agreement signed with Islamabad in December 2004, started work on dredging of the port channel up to the depth of 14.7 meters, allowing big vessels access to the port. It completed the dredging work by December 2006.

Gwadar port will play a key role in the proposed energy and trade corridor to China. Gwadar has all the natural advantages that can play a major role in serving as a corridor for energy, cargo and services between Central Asia, the Gulf and other surrounding regions. Western China can benefit from the Gwadar seaport through the Sost dry port, which will also create a ribbon of economic activity along the proposed highway linking Gwadar with the Karakoram highway in the north. The movement of oil and trade between Pakistan and China will obviously gain momentum when Gwadar is linked to the Karakoram Highway.

In February 2007, Pakistan Railways and China's Dong Fang Electric Supply Corporation had signed an agreement for establishing rail link between Havelian and Khunjerab. On February 19, 2007, Pakistan awarded Rs72 million contract to an international consortium to carry out feasibility study for establishing a rail link with China, which will boost trade relations between the two countries. By extending its East-West Railway from the Chinese border city of Kashi to Peshawar in Pakistan's northwest, China can receive cargo to and from Gwadar along the shortest route, from Karachi to Peshawar. The rail network could also be used to supply oil from the Persian Gulf to the Xinjiang. China has also invested another $200 million to build a coastal highway, which has been completed, connecting Gwadar port with Karachi.

Islamabad needs to pay more attention to the improvement of communication network and security situation in Balochistan province. The proposed $6 billion National Trade Corridor (NTC) project envisages improving all sectors of communications, including ports, shipping, aviation. The Asian Development Bank has agreed to provide $1 billion for NTC project that would link Karachi to Gwadar and Khunjrab in Northern Areas. It is worth mentioning that the World Bank and other lenders have already agreed to provide $1.8 billion for the Karachi-Gwadar-Khunjrab section, which is estimated to cost $2.8 billion. The World Bank will provide $300 million a year.