The second phase of a feasibility study on a proposed waterway link from the Bassac River to the sea in Kep province is scheduled to be completed by end-January, reported the public works ministry. The project is seen as a massive support for the transportation market and the export business.

The accompanying Bassac River Navigation and Logistics System (“BRNLS”) project aims to provide a viable and efficient alternative for waterway passenger and freight traffic to enter and exit the Kingdom – without passing through Vietnam – that also reduces transportation and logistics costs.

The Bassac River is a distributary of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers that starts in Phnom Penh and flows south to Kandal province’s Chrey Thom village in Koh Thom district, crossing the border into Vietnam. The Kingdom largely relies on the Ka’am Samnor gate on the Mekong for international transport via waterways.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport recapped in a December 14 statement that the feasibility study of the BRNLS was given the green light by Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 8.

The ministry, along with the Chinese state-backed China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and CCCC Water Transportation Consultants Co Ltd, are currently working on the study, now in its second phase, the statement confirmed, although it did not disclose how many phases there would be in total.

It indicated that public works minister Sun Chanthol chaired a December 14 consultation meeting to review the progress of the study, in which he underscored the “historical importance” of the undertaking and called on everyone involved to be thorough in their analyses and aim to ensure minimal potential negative impacts as a result of the BRNLS.

Although the starting point for the waterway link on the Bassac River has yet to be officially determined, the ministry previously mentioned southeastern Kandal’s Prek Ambel village as a contender. And indeed, there is a distributary there at GPS coordinates (11.243N, 105.026E) that flows southwest.

Cambodia Logistics Association (CLA) president Sin Chanthy told The Post on December 15 that, although limited by longer delivery times compared to its alternatives, water transport has historically and globally been the safer, more cost-effective option, which also leads to less road damage and congestion.

The BRNLS could bolster outbound freight traffic, given that goods transported abroad from Phnom Penh by waterways must first pass through Vietnam, he said, adding that transshipment – via foreign intermediary ports – can be time-consuming, expensive, and involve cumbersome paperwork.

“The transport and logistics sectors hope that construction will be able to begin soon on the waterway currently being studied by the government, since it’ll bring significant benefits to national economic growth,” Chanthy said.

Logistics and Supply Chain Business Association in Cambodia president Chea Chandara said that, when completed, the BRNLS could mark a milestone, as an important gateway for Cambodian agricultural goods and other key items into international markets.

“This waterway will be an important leg-up for Cambodian trade with the rest of the world. When this watercourse opens, road congestion will be reduced and public spending on road maintenance will be saved,” he speculated.

The December 14 statement noted that the BRNLS is being envisioned as a source of momentum for the domestic inland waterway transport sector with a view to improving overall quality, taking efficiency to “another level”, and trimming shipping and logistics costs.

The project will also aim to reduce pressure on roads as a result of heavy vehicles; promote internal integration; and add, smooth and otherwise optimise regional and international connections of inland waterways and ports, the ministry added.

According to the Customs, in January-November 2022, Cambodia’s international trade reached $48.205 billion, up 12.80 per cent year-on-year, while imports and exports amounted to $27.747 billion and $20.458 billion, respectively, up 9.19 per cent and 18.09 per cent, narrowing the trade deficit by 9.86 per cent to $7.289 billion.