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Canal project will open lower Mekong to mid-sized ships   2010-09-01 - Tuoi tre

Sandbars at the lower mouth of the Mekong river prevent ships over 5000 tons from reaching Can Tho and other Delta ports.  That will change by 2013, when a $300 million project to widen and deepen 40 kilometers of canals is completed, permitting 20,000 ton vessels to ascend the river.


A thirty year search for the right solution


Pham Anh Tuan, Director of Portcoast, master planner for development of Vietnam’s seaport system, told Tuoi Tre that it took 30 years to find the new passage.


In the 1980’s, the State often tried to dredge a channel at the river’s mouth, but was unable to deepen it to more than five metres.  As often as it was dredged, the passage silted up within a few months.  At best, 5000 ton ships could enter and leave when tides were at their height.


From 1997 to 2002, a lot of foreign consultancy firms were invited to study the hydrology of the channel.  Unanimously, they agreed that the channel is “unruly,” and cannot be improved to receive big ships.


At last, in 2002-2004, a Canadian engineering firm, SNC Lavalin, and the Dutch E&C specialist Haskoning joined with Portcoast to propose a radical new approach.  Their solution was the widening and deepening of two canals, allowing larger ships to bypass the sandbar-ridden river mouth.


The companies concluded that a 40 kilometre passage from the lower Mekong to the East Sea is feasible (see map).  The project encompasses embankments extending for thirty-six kilometers and two breakwater systems.


The plan, says SNC Lavalin’s Dr. Bassem Eid, “is technically, economically, socially and environmentally viable.” 


The daring project was approved by competent agencies in 2007. The Ministry of Transport then organized a lot of workshops to gather opinions on the project. And finally, construction began in late 2009.


Ten dollars less to ship each ton of goods


The lower Mekong Delta provinces currently import and export fifteen million tons of goods every year.  Because Can Tho and Cai Cui, the two big ports on the Mekong’s lower channel, can only receive ships of 5000 tons or smaller, freight costs are high. Exporters typically must send goods by barge or truck to the ports in HCM City or Ba Ria-Vung Tau.  This adds $10 per ton, or $200 per container, to their costs.  Roads are overloaded and the quality of perishable goods may suffer in transit.


Anticipating the opening of the new passage, Vinalines and Can Tho City launched construction of a second phase of Cai Cui Port.  The $1.8 trillion expansion will increase Cai Cui’s capacity to more than six million tons yearly – thirty times the present level.  Can Tho Port will also be expanded.


Can Tho Port Director Phan Thanh Tien calls the bypass canal project “a golden key” for seaports in the lower Mekong Delta.


Shipments through Delta seaports will increase by 20 times by 2030


The volume of goods shipped through the seaports on the lower Mekong is expected to reach 54-74 million tons per annum by 2015, 132-156 million tons per annum by 2020 and 206-300 million tons per annum by 2030, or 20 times higher than the current level.


The nation’s current seaport development plan guides port expansion in seven provinces: Can Tho, Tra Cu in Tra Vinh, Dai Ngai in Soc Trang, Binh Minh in Vinh Long, Nam Cai Cui in Hau Giang, My Thoi in An Giang, and Lap Vo in Dong Thap.

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