Prime Minister Hun Sen voiced his support for an initiative proposed by Japan’s ambassador to integrate the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port (PAS) into the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to attract foreign investment to it in general and investment from Japan in particular.

The premier was speaking at the May 1 groundbreaking ceremony for a new container terminal at the port in Preah Sihanouk province.

He said that in past meetings with Japan’s diplomats and leaders, he often called for the development of PAS into a deep-water facility.

Cambodia and Japan eventually cooperated with an increased focus on logistics by deepening the port to allow larger ships to dock there, which reduced shipping costs, Hun Sen recounted.

“I always called on Japan to expand the deep-sea port as soon as possible. At that time, it was the late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who I called upon to speed up the process.

“The depth of our port was only 8m, but Japan was able to dredge the port to reach 9.2m. However, I would like to emphasise that at the depth of 9.2m, we still received only 18 per cent of the potential cargo because bigger ships still could not enter the port.

“Although we had expanded the container terminal to 350m, and 550,000 to one million containers arrived annually, the port received the same volume of 18 per cent of the possible containers. Therefore, we were still losing $200 per container,” he recalled.

Hun Sen said that in 2026, the new container terminal will be completed in its first phase, which will be 350m long with a depth of 14.5m. The second phase expansion will see the construction of a terminal that will be 400m long with a depth of 16.5m, which will allow ships from across the Asia-Pacific region to dock and thereby reducing shipping costs. This will increase the competitiveness of Cambodia’s ports.

Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Atsushi Ueno also said that Cambodia and Japan have considered transforming PAS into a free port with a link between the port and the SEZ in the province.

“Since 1996, Japan has supported the construction at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port to expand it so that the port can function efficiently,” he said.

Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol said PAS has been contributing to Cambodia’s national growth and development, with a significant increase in the volume of cargo passing through the port. Therefore, income from the port and the national revenue has steadily increased.

“The volume of cargo passing through the port in 2022 amounted to about seven million tonnes, an increase of 0.18 per cent, and the total revenue stood at $84 million, an increase of 0.41 per cent over the previous year,” he noted.

Meeting with reporters in Preah Sihanouk province, PAS director-general Lou Kim Chhun said the construction of this new container terminal marks a further development to expand its capacity and respond to the increase in the number of containers passing through it now and in the future. He confirmed that the construction of the terminal is divided into three phases.

“These three projects will use a total budget of $973 million. The budget includes Japan’s $760 million in concessional loans and a $192 million in-kind contribution by the Cambodian government along with about $21 million from PAS,” he said.

He continued that based on a feasibility study, the new container facilities will convert PAS from a feeder port into a hub port, which will allow large container ships from all regions of the world to dock.