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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Traffic at Sihanoukville Port drops further in September

Traffic at Sihanoukville Port drops further in September

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Containers are loaded at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, which reported an annualised 20.66 percent drop in traffic last month.

New deepwater port in Vietnam and economic crisis blamed for 20-percent fall drop in volumes for firm due for IPO in 2010

CARGO handled at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port (PAS) fell by a fifth in September when compared with the same month last year, as coal imports plummeted 63 percent, figures released by the port Thursday show.

The downturn in coal imports, which were described by PAS General Director Lou Kim Chhun as part of the regular ebb and flow in trade in the commodity, magnified falling container volumes on a range of import and export sectors.

“Some months, more coal is imported; some months, less coal is imported, and that dragged handling volumes down further in September,” he said.

The port, which is Cambodia’s largest shipping facility by volume, has now seen throughput fall 11.62 percent over the first nine months of the year to 1.4 million tonnes.

The 20.66 percent year-on-year drop in throughput for September came after a fall of just 6.4 percent in August and slight growth in July.

Revenues dropped 17 percent year on year to $17.92 million to the end of September. Last year, port revenues were $28.8 million, 12 percent up on 2007.

Lou Kim Chhun said imports and exports have both been hit, blaming a mix of the global economic crisis and the launch in June of the Cai Mep deepwater port in southern Vietnam’s Ba Ria Vung Tau province, which has led to a diversion of some traffic up the Mekong to Phnom Penh.

While coal imports have fallen just 7 percent when averaged across the first nine months of the year, imports of containerised cargo have fallen 23.41 percent as domestic demand for goods slumped.

Cargo exports, the bulk of which are ready-made garments, fell 23.66 percent to 225,874 tonnes. The result was broadly in line with the 22.56 percent drop in garment exports over the first eight months of the year reported by the Ministry of Commerce.

“Competition from Cai Mep hasn’t helped, but the port has also been hurt by a fall in garment and textile exports to the US and European countries, along with declining imports of autos and construction materials,” Lou Kim Chhun said.

Steel imports fell 77.88 percent over the first nine months of the year to 7,412 tonnes, figures show, while cement imports fell 23.12 percent to 37,772 tonnes.

Figures released by Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP) this month show its throughput increased 22.7 percent in September year on year, following gains in both July and August and losses in each of the preceeding six months.

Like Lou Kim Chhun, PPAP Deputy Director Eang Veng Sun put the change down to the impact of the Cai Mep deepwater port.

Before the opening of Cai Mep, exports produced in industrial Phnom Penh had to be carried overland to PAS. It lacks a deepwater port so goods must then be transferred to Singapore, Taiwan or Hong Kong and loaded into a larger container ship to take them to key export markets in the US and Europe. Shipping goods down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh to Cai Mep and then on to those markets is faster.

Port due to list on bourse
PAS is scheduled to be one of three state-owned companies that will list when the planned Cambodia Stock Exchange is launched, which is now expected to take place next year at the earliest.

Mey Vann, director of the Department of Industrial Finance at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and Ming Bankosal, director general of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia, were not prepared to comment Thursday on whether the shift in transport volumes from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh would affect the port’s listing plans.

Lou Kim Chhun also refused to comment, saying only that he expected the global economy to recover and freight volumes to rebound. The port also plans to accelerate development of a 70-hectare special economic zone on the adjacent site to attract manufacturers and boost trade volumes, he added.

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