Construction of a new container terminal of Sihanoukville Autonomous Port has been delayed to early next year due to slower-than-planned layout design, according to the management.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is to provide an Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan for the first phase of the new terminal to the tune of 23,502,000,000 yen ($218 million).

The 350m-long and 14.5m-deep container terminal was originally scheduled to begin construction in mid-2021, with operations expected to begin in mid-2024.

It will be able to handle 60,000 DWT ships – or those carrying around 5,000 TEUs, allowing about 93 per cent of container vessels across Asia to enter the port of Sihanoukville.

Lou Kim Chhun, director-general of the deep-sea port's operator Sihanoukville Autonomous Port (PAS), a stock-listed company on the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX), told The Post on April 26 that issues concerning the period scheduled for engineering the layout design and multiple revisions had hampered plans for the terminal's groundbreaking.

He said the terminal would greatly contribute to the strengthening of Cambodia's maritime transport sector and its integration into the region and the world.

"Plans to build a new container port will be postponed to early 2022 due to delays in design studies and multiple revisions," he said, adding that larger ships will be able to dock at the port of Sihanoukville, which will help reduce shipping costs and time, as well as increase Cambodia's competitiveness.

Kim Chhun said the global Covid-19 epidemic has had some impact on business at the port.

Cambodia Logistics Association (CLA) president Sin Chanthy said the terminal will greatly contribute to enhancing the competitiveness of Cambodia's exports to international markets, adding that “world-class ships” are currently unable to dock at the port.

He said that nowadays, when it needs to export goods to the European and US markets, Cambodia has to first transport them by small and medium-sized ships to major ports in other countries and territories such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam.

"When Cambodia has a deep-water port, it will allow large ships to dock and transport goods directly to all destinations in the world," he said, adding that this will reduce costs and save time, which will improve the competitiveness of goods in the international market.

Currently, about 80 per cent of Cambodian goods exported to international markets pass through the port, according to Chanthy.

According to Kim Chhun, in the five years before the Covid-19 crisis, the volume of goods passing through the port increased by an average of 14 per cent each year. But that figure was just four per cent in 2020.

Still, the port's throughput tonnage rebounded in the first quarter of 2021, increasing about six per cent compared to the same period in 2020.