Economic Improvement  by Enhancing  Operations of Pakistan’s Ports

Seaports play very important role in the economic development of a state. Countries having all weather deep draft ports, equipped with state of the art equipment to handle cargo efficiently are massive source of progression of economy. These attract investors to establish industries in the vicinity to import raw material and export value added goods. It is observed that in the world large cities are located closer to the bigger ports. Modern trend is to handle transit and transshipment cargo. Ports located in the shipping routes like port of Singapore, Salalah & Sohar of Oman etc. have added advantage of handling transshipment cargo. Similarly, ports which can handle transit trade of neighbouring countries especially land locked have additional advantage to handle transit trade. Pakistan has plus1001 km long coast with three commercial ports. Karachi, Bin Qasim and Gwadar. Karachi port is functioning since 1887. Initially it had two wharves West and East, which have 33 berths including 3 oil piers. Ships up to 13.0m draft can be berthed. Out of these five on West and six on East wharves have been leased to Karachi International Container Terminal (KICT) and Pakistan International Container Terminal (PICT) respectively following Land Lord Port Strategy. The recently built south wharf at Kemari Garyone has 1500 m quay wall which can dock mostly container ships up to 16m draft. It is operated by South Asia Pakistan Container Terminal (SAPT) equipped with state of the art cranes and is completely computerized.   Cargo handling capacity of KPT is 125 million tons for all types of cargo, including 4.1 million containers. Last fiscal year, it handled 52 million tons. It has much capacity to handle more cargo.  Railway share to lift cargo is only 5% which needs to be increased. As the port is located at the center of the city, it is causing traffic congestion in Karachi especially in the vicinity of port area because of movement of cargo. It is also hampering the operation of the port. In the past three years it has handled, 229,205 containers as transit cargo for Afghanistan, 139 for CAR states and nil for China. It has handled very less volume of transshipment cargo although South wharf has 16m draft and state of the art facilities. It is mainly because of its location away from the main shipping routes. Railway authorities are carrying out feasibility study to establish a Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) to increase the lifting capacity of cargo from KPT to Pipri on Public Private Partnership (PPP).  From there, the cargo to upcountry can be taken on trucks and rail. It will increase the efficiency of the port, augment the railway share and also considerably reduce the traffic congestion in Karachi.  

Port Bin Qasim is also located in Karachi which is functioning since 1980. It has 18 berths, 16 are operated by the terminal operators. Maximum permissible draft is 13.0 m. It has cargo handling capacity 83 m tons where as it has handled 55.0m in fiscal year 2022. It can handle all types of cargo including LPG, LNG and coal. It has taken the shape of energy hub of Pakistan. However, railway has lifted 12% of the total cargo in the last fiscal year which needs to be increased. This port in the past three years has handled 23,360 containers for Afghanistan, 51 for CAR states, and none for China as a transit cargo, while the transshipment cargo was only 6415 containers which is nominal for such a big port. Since this port is also not on the main shipping routes, therefore it has not been able to attract transshipment cargo. The volume of transit trade handled is also not impressive. 

The Gwadar port has strategic location at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, just outside the Strait of Hormuz, in the proximity of main shipping routes. Its location is considered most suitable to operate as a transshipment hub.  It is functional since January 2007. The primary objective is to act as an alternate port of Pakistan, operate as transshipment hub, handle transit trade of China, Afghanistan, and CAR state, along with facilitating the supply of cargo to the hinterland of Pakistan and the development of Balochistan province, especially the Gwadar region. Its main features include quay wall of 602 meters (3 multipurpose berths including RO-RO), 100 m service berth, design depth 13.8 meters and alongside berth of 14.5 m. However, the present average depth is 11.5 m.  The backup area is 383,000 square meters, sufficient to stack cargo destined for Pakistan, transshipment and transit. The Port of Singapore Authority (POSA) was the first Concession Holder to operate the port from Feb 2007 to Feb 2013 which handled only 162 ships in six years.  The second Concession Holder from Feb 2013 till to date is China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) which has handled 223 ships in 9 years till June 2021. Total transit cargo handled for Afghanistan in the years 2020 and 2021 is 110355 tons and nil for China and Car states. It has not yet started handling transshipment cargo.

 The sea ports in Karachi have hinterland connectivity by Eastern route by motor way to Burhan interchange except Sukkur to Hyderabad which is under construction. However, two-way dual carriage way is available in this portion. From Burhan to Khunjerab pass there is motor way/ express way up to Mansehra, from here on ward up to Khunjerab Pass via Gilgit, either it is a two-lane road or a two-way dual carriageway which is being used by 22 wheeler trucks. Similarly, from Karachi up to Khyber Pass the road network is available for the 22 wheeler tucks up to Khyber Pass via Burhan interchange. These ports have rail connectivity up to Havelian and Peshawar from here the cargo can be transported by trucks to Khunjerab and Khyber passes. Gwadar port has connection by road with Afghanistan and Western province of China by western route via Quetta to DI Khan. This portion has either two lane road or two-way dual carriage way which is suitable for 22 wheeler trucks. From D I Khan to Burhan, motor way is operational. From Burhan to Khunjerab and Khyber passes road network is operational as described before. The volume of transit trade handled by the three ports is nominal as described earlier. Our government needs to actively pursue the governments of China, Afghanistan, and CAR states for the handling of their trade through Pakistani ports. The route is much shorter and our ports are well equipped and have the capacity to handle their trade. Moreover, the security conditions in Afghanistan have much improved.  Gwadar port has right location to operate as a transshipment hub. Containers shipped from the Far East, Red Sea, and African countries on the bigger ships destined for the Gulf countries and other regional ports can be unloaded here and shipped on feeders to these ports and vice versa.  However, to make Gwadar port functional for transshipment, the channel depth is required to be increased to the designed depth 14.0 m on priority. Functioning of the Special Industrial Zone at Gwadar may be given due importance.  State-of-the-art cranes and associated equipment need to be installed by the concession holder, COPHC. Moreover, the telecom network, especially Wi-Fi needs improvement in the Gwadar area. The ports in the vicinity of Gwadar, like Salah, Sohar, Duqm of Oman, and Jebel Ali of UAE are likely to give tough competition, which can be overcome by offering ease of business and competitive rates. To conclude, Ports in Karachi and Gwadar have capacity and are amply equipped, and have connectivity with China, Afghanistan, and CAR states to handle their cargo. The government needs to actively negotiate with these governments to handle their trade. Gwadar port has right location in the proximity of shipping routes to operate as a transshipment hub. However, dredging of the channel by Gwadar Port Authority, and installation of state of the art equipment by the Concession Holder, COPHC needs to be done on priority. The increased operations of ports will certainly enhance the economy of Pakistan in addition to creation of jobs which are also a dire need in the present economic conditions.

Dr. Anjum Sarfraz
Dr. Anjum Sarfraz
the author is Cdre (retd) former Senior Research Fellow, at NIMA And SVI Islamabad