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Another reason for the deep sea port to be constructed at Matarbari rather than Payra or Sonadia, is that the government is to construct another 1200MW power plant there, in addition to the present one. JICA is investing there too. The project is to be approved this month under the 42nd loan package. Work on a few other projects is also underway in Matarbari.

Coal Power Generation Company Bangladesh Limited (CPGCBL) is implementing the Matarbari coal-fired power plant project and the deep sea port construction project. So far 45 per cent progress has been made on the project, according to CPGCBL sources.

The Matarbari coal-fired power plant project was approved at the ECNEC meeting in 2014. The project cost was estimated to be Tk 359.84 billion (Tk 35,984 crore). That means the deep sea port construction costs have been estimated to be Tk158.70 billion ( Tk 15,870 crore), the entire amount of which is to be provided by JICA.

With the deep sea port being added to the project, the term of the Matarbari project has been extended to 2026. The revised project will be placed before the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) this month for approval.

The vessels that come to Chattogram port at present each carry cargo in a maximum of 1,878 containers. The large vessels that that will berth at Matarbari will each be able to carry the cargo carried by four vessels that got to the Chattogram port

Project director of the Matarbari coal-fired power plant project Abul Kalam Azad told Prothom Alo a deep sea port will be set up at Matarbari now and so the length and depth of the channel as well as the number of the jetties will be increased. Once the deep sea port is complete, any mother vessel will be easily able to come to the port. This will reduce time and costs of cargo transportation. He mentioned that a large part of Singapore's revenue came from its port.

Sources in the planning commission have said that so long the length of the Matarbari sea port had been 3km. With the decision to construct a deep sea port, the length has been increased to 14.3km. Similarly, the breadth of the channel has been increased by 100 metres, from 250 metres to 350 metres. The depth has also been increased from 15 metres to 18.5 metres. Presently two jetties were being constructed for the port. Now another six jetties will be constructed. The new structure of the port has been finalised, based on studies carried out by Japan's Koei, Germany's Pichner, Japan's TEPSCO, Australia's SMEC and a few other companies.

When asked about the matter, former professor of economics at Chattogram University Mainul Islam said, "The deep sea port was supposed to be at Sonadia in Cox's Bazar. China was supposed to construct it. But the government moved away from that, under pressure from India. But it is a matter of hope that finally we will be getting a full-fledged deep sea port at Matarbari, instead of Sonadia. This will meet Bangladesh's requirements." This economist also stressed the need for road and railway connection with the sea port.

When prime minister Sheikh Hasina visited China in 2014, an MOU had been signed between Bangladesh and China for a deep sea port at Sonadia. It was heard that India had strong objections to this. After a lot of drama, the agreement for the deep sea port was finally not signed during the prime minister's trip.

The government then decided to set up the deep sea port at Payra in Patuakhali instead of Sonadia. Billions of taka was invested for the purpose and now the government is saying that it will not be financially feasible to construct the deep sea port there. It will take huge funds to dredge the 70km channel area there every year. So the government has decided that this would not be appropriate for a deep sea port. Accordingly the government has now decided that the deep sea port will be set up at Matarbari instead of Payra.

Concerned officials of the government have said if the deep sea port is constructed at Matarbari, mother vessels coming from various countries will be able to berth directly the port. The vessels that come to Chattogram port at present each carry cargo in a maximum of 1,878 containers. The large vessels that that will berth at Matarbari will each be able to carry the cargo carried by four vessels that got to the Chattogram port.

Project director Abul Kalam Azad told Prothom Alo it takes around three months to unload cargo from large vessels to smaller ones and then unload this at the port. With a deep sea port, this time will be drastically reduced.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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