Vietnam builds a $1.7 billion port, and now it lies waiting for ships

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A cargo ship docks at a port in Cai Mep-Thi Vai complex, the southern province of Ba Ria - Vung Tau. Photo: Nguyen Long A cargo ship docks at a port in Cai Mep-Thi Vai complex, the southern province of Ba Ria - Vung Tau. Photo: Nguyen Long

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More than six years since its opening, a VND40-trillion (US$1.75 billion) deep-river port complex in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau is still struggling to reach its designed capacity.
Statistics from the province's transport department showed that a total of 1.16 million TEUs were handled at Cai Mep-Thi Vai last year, or just 17 percent of its capacity, even after freight growth averaged 20 percent a year, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on Thursday.
Although all its seven ports are designed to handle container ships of up to 85,000 DWT, just a few of them receive enough large vessels , Tran Van Danh, chief of the province's customs office, was quoted as saying.
The others are now handling small boats carrying farm produce, iron and steel products, and one of them was almost neglected, Danh said. 
Cai Mep-Thi Vai has also failed its mission of becoming a key transshipment port for long distance ships.
Initially 16 vessels left the ports for the US and Europe every week, but by 2012 shipping lines had reduced them to eight ships, the newspaper reported.
One of the two busiest ports within the complex, CMIT currently sees three ships sailing to the US every week.
Nguyen Xuan Ky, deputy CEO of the port, said local goods destined for the distant markets have yet to be shipped through Vietnamese ports.
Instead, they are often sent to transshipment ports in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan through feeder ships.
Different reasons
Over the years, local experts and officials have had different explanations for the lack of success of Cai Mep-Thi Vai.
At a meeting with the Japan International Cooperation Agency last month, Deputy Transport Minister Nguyen Thu Cong said, with an annual growth of around 6 percent, Vietnamese economy should be seeing a sharp increase in freight transport, but it is not.
Some experts said with ports in nearby Ho Chi Minh City expanding since 2008, Cai Mep becomes much less competitive due to a lack of a complete transport infrastructure network. 
Official statistics showed that more than 10 million TEUs passed through Vietnamese ports last year, about 70 percent of which were handled at southern ports, with those in Ho Chi Minh City receiving the majority.
Without a coordinator balancing goods flows, Cai Mep will continue operating below their designed capacity and will incur losses until at least 2020, Nhu Dinh Thien, general secretary of Vietnam Ship Agents and Brokers Association, told the newspaper.
Thien's association estimated that if Vietnamese goods are handled and shipped directly from a local port, without being first sent to another regional port, the country's gross domestic product will increase by more than $2.2 billion a year.

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