The completion of a proposed waterway link from the Bassac River to a “seaport” in the Kampot-Kep region will require the excavation of just one new canal, around 7km long, according to Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol.

The linked 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 water transport.

Although not explicitly named, the “seaport” is most likely the International Multi-Purpose Logistics and Port Centre, which broke ground in May on a 600ha plot of seafront land with water depth of 15m, in Prek Tnaot commune, Bokor town, Kampot. The project is expected to cost $1.5 billion – mainly invested by Kampot Logistics and Port Co Ltd – and accommodate ships weighing up to 100,000 tonnes.

Speaking at the public works ministry’s annual meeting on February 15, Chanthol confirmed that the compilation of the results of a study for the waterway link conducted over the past two years is “nearly 100 per cent” complete.

The results indicate that there will be no significant legal or technical issues concerning, inter alia, sample digging, the environment and biodiversity, water levels, and flood and drought relief, he said.

Aside from the singular 7km-long new canal, the waterway link will use existing thoroughfares, the minister affirmed, noting that certain segments will need to at least be deepened.

Chantol stressed that successful completion of the new inland waterway route would mean lower shipping costs and reductions in required procedures linked to journeys from inland ports to the sea.

He confirmed that the ministry’s General Department of Waterway and Maritime Transport, and Ports has been working with Chinese state-backed China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and CCCC Water Transportation Consultants Co Ltd over the past two years on the venture.

“This is a historic project, and I hope that we’ll get all the figures this month [February] to discuss at inter-ministerial meetings and report to the Cabinet, to see if we’ll be able to proceed or not,” he said, adding that the waterway link could also provide unique travel options for tourists.

Logistics and Supply Chain Business Association in Cambodia president Chea Chandara suggested to The Post that the starting point for the waterway link on the Bassac River could be in Prek Ambel commune, Sa’ang district, Kandal province.

Regardless, the waterway link is shaping up to be an important freight transportation route, especially for areas near the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, and could greatly improve the profit margins of farmers and exporters, he said, adding that a number of multi-purpose ports are planned along the Tonle Sap.

“In recent years, there’s been a series of infrastructure development projects, especially roads, ports and airports, all of which will be a driving force to attract investors, as well as enhance Cambodia’s export capacity,” he said.

Although no starting point for the waterway link on the Bassac River has been officially announced, 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.

Hong Vanak, director of International Economics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, commented that a complex and diverse transportation network increases a country’s ability to compete on the international stage, adding that waterway shipping tend to be more affordable and reduce traffic.

He noted that the Bassac link will provide a useful alternative for moving freight by waterway from Phnom Penh to the sea without having to cross into Vietnam, as has historically been the case.

“The project will be very profitable for the economy, so the sooner construction begins the better.”