Seaport system yet to meet expectations ảnh 1 Loading goods for export at Cai Mep - Thi Vai Port. (Photo: SGGP)

It is also the same number of years Ho Chi Minh City implemented the plan to relocate the seaport system on the Saigon River out of the inner city to have space for better development.

Up to now, the seaport system of HCMC, Ba Ria - Vung Tau, Dong Nai, and Binh Duong (the fourth seaport group) has undergone many changes. One of the most expected changes is to redefine the role of the seaport system in the direction of Ba Ria - Vung Tau with the advantage of a large area of vacant land and the deep-water Cai Mep - Thi Vai channel.

Vietnam National Shipping Lines has just proposed to invest in a new superport in the fourth seaport group. This proposal immediately received the attention of a large number of people and experts because this area already has a system of deep-water seaports, the Cai Mep - Thi Vai international gateway, HCMC's seaport system, including Cat Lai and Hiep Phuoc ports, and some other small ports in Dong Nai and Binh Duong provinces, accounting for about 70 percent of the country's import and export containers. Therefore, whether the appearance of a superport necessary?

Rapid growth

The growth of the fourth seaport group can be seen in the report and actual activities. According to a report from the Ministry of Transport, in recent years, this seaport group always has had a growth rate of about 15 percent per year.

Specifically, HCMC has the largest volume of exported and imported goods and containers, accounting for 54 percent of the total volume of goods in the region, followed by Ba Ria - Vung Tau with about 38 percent. If only import and export containers are counted, the seaports in HCMC and Ba Ria - Vung Tau receive 47 percent and 46 percent of the total volume of containers, respectively.

People can easily see the robust development of seaports through the increasing number of trucks and containers on roads in and out of seaports. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the inter-provincial road 25B, the Hanoi highway, the My Thuy intersection (HCMC), and the National Highway 51 section from Phu My to near Vung Tau junction were always congested due to containers and trucks.

HCMC and Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province had to spend thousands of billions of Vietnamese dong to solve traffic overload at these places. Currently, this situation will possibly recur when economic activities are restored and import and export activities are vibrant again.

In recent years, Cai Mep - Thi Vai seaport cluster has continuously received many large tonnage ships. Especially, in October 2020, the port successfully welcomed a ship with a tonnage of over 214,000 tons, becoming the first port in Vietnam and the 19th port in the world to receive super-large mother ships.

According to Mr. Nguyen Van Cong, former Deputy Minister of Transport, Head of Vietnam Maritime Administration, the above container ship is one of the few largest container ships in the world today, with a capacity of more than 18,300 TEUs, a length of nearly 400 meters and a width of 59 meters. With such a size, if 18,000 20-foot containers are arranged in a line, the length will be over 100 kilometers.

This vessel is being operated by one of the world's largest shipping line alliances on the service route to the West Coast of the US. The appearance of large ships will help Vietnam's import and export goods go directly to major markets, such as Europe and the US without having to go through transshipment ports in Singapore and Malaysia, helping to save logistics costs, increasing competitiveness, and reducing transportation time.

Along with the super ships, currently, the Cai Mep - Thi Vai Port area also welcomes about 35 turns of container ships every week, an increase of nearly 1.5 times compared to 20 turns per week in the period from 2016 backward, including two trips to Europe, two to the European – American areas, 21 to the US, and 10 to Asia. Cai Mep - Thi Vai Port currently has a higher number of mother ship service routes to the US and Europe than many other countries in Southeast Asia, only after Malaysia and Singapore.

In HCMC, in 2021, despite being heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the total volume of containers through the ports of the Tan Cang Saigon system still exceeded 9.2 million TEUs, equivalent to 130 million tons of goods, up 4.7 percent compared to 2020. Currently, Tan Cang Saigon provides port services for over 55 percent of the market share of import and export containers through seaports across the country.

Yet to meet expectations

Despite 30 years of establishment and development, by the end of 2021, the cargo handling capacity of the Cai Mep - Thi Vai seaport cluster is only 76.9 million tons per year by the end of 2021 or 51 percent of the design capacity. Of which, container handling capacity is slightly better with 4.76 million TEUs, equivalent to 57 percent of design capacity.

According to the assessment of Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province, the reason that the exploitation capacity has not yet reached the expectation is that the infrastructure for connecting regional and inter-regional traffic and the dredging of the navigation channel remains slow and has not kept up with the pace of the development of seaports.

Moreover, logistics services have gradually formed but have not met the requirements, and the Covid-19 pandemic has also affected the operation of seaports.

According to many experts, despite having advantages, Cai Mep - Thi Vai port cluster has not yet attracted many large shipping lines and has not been qualified to become an international transshipment port due to many shortcomings in terms of management mechanism.

Mr. Le Van Thuc, Director of the Maritime Administration of Vung Tau Seaport, analyzed that to develop Cai Mep - Thi Vai into a gateway port for international transshipment, besides focusing on investment in seaport public infrastructure, such as expanding and upgrading navigation channels, the Government needs to have breakthrough mechanisms and policies for this special deep-water seaport and international gateway.

Specifically, the first solution is to research, call for, and encourage investment groups with the capacity and experience to invest and exploit logistics service centers in the Lower Cai Mep area. At the same time, the model of the Cai Mep transshipment port should be studied and piloted, and the same tax and customs regulations for a free economic zone should be applied to the port area.

Meanwhile, in HCMC, the dredging of the Soai Rap channel has faced many difficulties, causing the relocation of a part of the seaport's operations on the Saigon River to the area of Hiep Phuoc and Nha Be District yet to meet expectations.

Currently, most of the activities of the seaport system of HCMC still take place in Cat Lai in Thu Duc City, making the transport infrastructure system in the Cat Lai area always overloaded. HCMC has made many efforts, investing thousands of billions of Vietnamese dong to renovate and build new bridges and roads to remove this bottleneck, but the situation has not improved fundamentally.

The Ministry of Transport said that the fact that Cai Mep - Thi Vai has not fully performed its role of becoming an international gateway port has made this deep-water port cluster unable to promote its full potential and inherent advantages to help to reduce the load for HCMC and be on the same level with seaports in the region, as well as in the world.

Therefore, in the coming time, the Ministry of Transport will coordinate with Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province to make planning of a system of warehouses and satellite inland container depots to facilitate and attract goods to the port, thereby helping to solve the problem of overloading for HCMC.

Currently, in Cai Mep - Thi Vai port area, there are five container ports, including Tan Cang Cai Mep, CMIT, Cai Mep ODA, SSIT, and Gemalink. The entire port is built to receive ships of 250,000 tons, equivalent to a capacity of 24,000 TEUs. The shallowest point of the channel is about 14 meters.

The Ministry of Transport has planned to dredge this channel to a depth of 15.5 meters at the shallowest point. Meanwhile, there are two channels leading ships into the seaport system of HCMC, namely Long Tau with about 8.5 meters, and Soai Rap with 7.5-9 meters deep. Compared to Long Tau, the Soai Rap channel is wider but prone to sedimentation.

Source: SGGP