The Gwadar port, inaugurated in March this year, is still not operational. Earlier it was expected to become functional by the end of this month or beginning of next year. But unresolved issues including port tariff are holding up the operation. If the things move smoothly, one estimate is that the port may take at least six months to start handling shipping traffic.

Fazal-ur-Rehman, the director of Gwadar port affairs at government secretariat in Islamabad, told this scribe on telephone that the port is ready to handle ships but he did not say how many ships carrying cargo are expected at the port in the initial stage of its operations.

He agreed that the port would be operational next year but he did set any target date. The port operator is presently working out a competitive port tariff, he added.

According to the official sources, the ball is currently in the court of Port of Singapore Authority (PSA), the port operator and it has to decide all issues related to the port operations. Under the concession agreement, the operator is to set up three different companies to look after various activities at the port, including cargo operation, marine operation and the free economic zone.

The concession includes obligations to handle mixed and general cargo, containers, dangerous goods, dry bulk, cars and ferries and the responsibility to provide and operate bunkering and water supply facilities for visiting ships.

Tariff: The most important issue is about fixing the port tariff, which has not yet been announced by the Gwadar Port Authority (GPA). After ceremonial opening of the port, the PSA held preliminary meetings with the authorities concerned for fixing tariffs and port charges. Critics say that marketing of cargo for the port should have started much earlier so that once the port was ready to accept cargo, it could become functional.

Since the official opening of the port, the ship agents and cargo consultants have been waiting for the announcement of port tariff. The shipping companies, it is stated, would take at least three months to plan their cargo movements.

Foreign mining firms working in Balochistan, have shown interest in bringing their cargo through the new port. In May, a delegation comprising Canadian, Australian and Chinese companies had approached the ministry of ports and shipping and the GPA to find out the operational status of the port. The delegation was informed that the port tariff would be announced in a period of one month. Nothing has happened so far.

A competitive tariff is needed to attract shipping lines to discharge cargo at Gwadar instead of cruising to Dubai and Karachi and leave for the next port for loading. Gwadar is expected to work as the main trans-shipment port. Mother vessels from US, Europe and the Far East will have the facility to discharge cargo destined for Dubai and Karachi at the Gwadar port for onward dispatch through feeder vessels. This would save time and cost for ships coming to the area.

Cargo marketing: So far, no information on the facilities at the new terminal including cargo handling, berthing, night navigation, storage etc., has been sent by the GPA to major shipping lines across the world. It is necessary to facilitate the shipping companies to plan cargo well in advance.

The marketing of cargo for the container terminal at Port Qasim was initiated abut 2-3 years before the terminal started operation.

Handling equipment: Critics say that the port was not ready to start cargo handling at the time of its inauguration in March, as the handling equipment including gantry cranes, post-panamic rubber-tyre cranes and fork lifters were not installed by that time. The installation of the handling equipment took almost eight months. After the inauguration, the Singaporean operator had ordered equipments for the handling of trans-shipment of containers from Singapore. The equipment included two Post Panamax Gantry Cranes of 45 tons capacity, four Rubber Tyre Gantries (RTGs), six tractor-trailers and one reach stacker.

At official opening of Gwadar port in March, the authorities had managed the berthing of three ships at the new port for a while. The port authorities had requested the owner of MV Yazdan, which was anchored at the Karachi Shipyard for more than a month for repairs, to take their vessel to Gwadar. The ship carrying several containers (some empty and some filled with goods) moved from Karachi port for offloading at Gwadar port. Similarly, the docking of MV Sibbi of Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) was also managed for the port’s opening ceremony.

Operational side: The operational side of the mega seaport project poses the mind-boggling questions for the potential investors and shipping companies interested to use the Gwadar port facilities.

On the operational side, the first multi-purpose terminal at Gwadar has already been completed, with a quay length of 600 metres and a depth of 14.5 metres, with a sizable backup area. Cranes, other terminal equipment and tugs have been acquired. At the time of inauguration, there were five installed cranes at the berths and two mobile cranes, but they could only handle bulk cargo.

Besides, there were two tugs and two pilot boats with one survey and one working boat and a mooring boat. Gwadar is the only port with a RoRo facility which means any heavy moving cargo could directly land on the berth without using cranes. It has ultra-modern satellite system with VHF/HF facility.

Singaporean operators plan to bring second-hand two gantry cranes and two RTGs to gear up operations at the port.



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