KARACHI: After a delay of about six years, the country’s biggest port strategically located at the eastern side of the Karachi port with a capacity of handling mother ships is set to begin test operations in the first week of next month.
As per details made available to Dawn, terminal operator South Asia Pakistan Terminals (SAPT) of the Pakistan Deep Water Container Port (PDWCP) has taken the initiative of expediting the process of completion of the port which has already suffered long delays.
Since the draft of the approach channel of the port is not as per the required depth, the operator plans to bring in smaller vessels with a loaded capacity of 4,000 to 5,000 TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit) against mother ships which can load between 14,000 and 18,000 TEUs.
The main objective of the test operations, a spokesman for the terminal operator said, was to remove teething problems which were normally faced in such mega projects, adding that the test runs would be judged as per the checklist and manual provided by the parent company, Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) of Hong Kong.
He said the test operations would be simulated as per the big ship for which the port had been developed and this would provide the operator SAPT an opportunity to check flaws if any.
Work on the PDWCP started in 2007 and the port was scheduled to commence operations by the middle of 2011. The project was conceived by the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) under a landlord concept with designed draft of 18 metres and operational draft of 16 metres.
Under an agreement, the SAPT, a subsidiary of the HPH, was to complete on shore projects, including construction of terminal, deployment of equipments and manning the terminal. The KPT was to provide land for the port, develop navigational channel and aids, port basin and road connectivity. Although the KPT has completed the capital dredging of the port basin, it is lagging behind as far as provision of the required draft of the approach channel is concerned, which has become a bottleneck.
After the delay, the KPT had last week entered into an agreement with a Dutch company for capital dredging of approach channel by removing five million cubic metres of silt and sand at a contracted cost of Rs2.985 billion.
The terminal operator’s spokesman told Dawn that under phase-I of the project, the SAPT had completed construction of the terminal and brought in equipments, including five ship-to-shore gantry cranes and 15 rubber tyre gantries. The operator has also completed three building blocks for administration, customs and canteen purposes. A 28MW power house and a storage yard with a capacity of 550,000 TEUs per annum were also ready, he added.
However, the PDWCP is currently facing two major issues which cause the delay — dredging of the approach channel and the port’s connectivity for the movement of cargo in and out of the terminal.
But the most serious issue, the spokesman said, was that as per the agreement the cess of the Karachi Dock Labour Board was not to be applied on the PDWCP, but now it was being imposed at a rate of Rs1,300 per TEU.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the KPT told Dawn that initially capital dredging of the approach channel had been awarded to the same Chinese company which had done the dredging job of the port basin.
The KPT later excluded the dredging job of the approach channel to engage its dredgers and save funds. Unfortunately, this could not be achieved as KPT’s dredgers were dry-docked for repair and maintenance due to some reason and attempts to get this job done by other dredgers also failed, he added.