The Ministry of Public Works and Transport plans to create a connection between the Bassac River and the sea in Kep province to provide a viable alternative for waterway passenger and freight traffic to enter Cambodia without passing through Vietnam, and hence spur economic growth.

The Bassac River is a distributary of the Tonle Sap Lake and Mekong River that starts in the capital and flows south to Kandal province’s Loeuk Dek district, crossing the border into Vietnam.

A significant first step has been made in the preliminary phase of this ambitious undertaking, although plenty more studies will need to be conducted before the first shovel hits the ground, ministry spokesman Vasim Sorya said citing minister Sun Chanthol.

Sorya told The Post on January 31 that ministry experts are doing thorough research for the project, in collaboration with foreign partners, and setting out the major considerations for the job.

However, he was admittedly unable to give a concrete timeframe for any works, projected cost estimates or length of the waterway connection.

He affirmed that he had not seen the documents concerning the studies, and that the paperwork on the project had yet to be submitted to the upper echelons of government for review.

He billed inland waterway transport as a convenient and safe alternative to journey by air or land that has lots of untapped potential for passenger and cargo traffic growth and is crucial for economic growth.

Speaking at its annual review meeting on January 28, Chanthol revealed that his ministry had reviewed some of the initial aspects of the project and unofficially briefed Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng on the matter.

“We want to see progress on waterways, and some provinces like Takeo and others are set to benefit from transportation from the Bassac River to the sea,” he said.

“This is the first step.”

The ministry will now carry out an impact assessment and determine the overall cost of the project, which aims to ensure that tourists and goods can enter the Kingdom without crossing from Vietnam on the Mekong River via the Ka’am Samnor border checkpoint in the eponymous commune, of Loeuk Dek in southern Kandal, the minister said.

“We have also studied this project with the Ministry of Water Resources to examine the legal aspects as per the Mekong River Commission,” Chanthol said, suggesting that impact would likely be minimal.

“We can do it.”

Royal Academy of Cambodia economics researcher Ky Sereyvath lauded the project as a major economic driver and “a must”, noting that the Kingdom largely relies on the Ka’am Samnor gate for international transport entering via waterways.

The project, in addition to a host of similar works such as a deep-sea port in Ream Bay and tourism ports in Kampot province, will facilitate freight and tourist flows in and out of the capital, he noted.

“I understand that this is a splendid determinant for building economic power on our own. We’ll have deep-sea ports, and no longer need to depend on Vietnam’s.

“Now we’ll no longer rely on [entry] from Vietnam on the Tonle Bassac. Cambodia is more independent, having removed more channels of economic influence,” Sereyvath said.