Short-sea routes, Thailand

There’s a number of projects to move road cargo and passengers flows to sea routes in Thailand, and these projects, alas slowly, are carried out.

Latest project to be launched in Jan next year is ferry line to connect Laem Chabang Port with Bang Saphan Port, Prachuap Province, one of the western provinces of Thailand. It is in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula, some 240 km south of Bangkok.
Existing motorway route is some 400-kilometers long, and it crosses Bangkok bottleneck, adding up extra hours and fuel, required for dragging through heavily overloaded RAMA II road, one of Bangkok’s primary highways.
Sea route is a straight 250-kilometer long line, connecting Laem Chabang and Bang Saphan, obvious gain in almost every aspect. A number of potential stakeholders already expressed their interest, among them Thailand Sahaviriya Steel Industries PLC or SSI, Southeast Asia’s largest producer of hot rolled steel sheet in coils (HRC), with 4 million tons annual capacity; Big C supermarkets network; a number of agricultural, industrial and retail companies, and tourism business.
Such demanding ferry line requires a ro-pax ship of substantial dimensions, and operator of the future line, reportedly a private company, claimed they already picked a right vessel for the job of some 20,000 GT. Actually, if put to full throttle to utilize maximum cargo volumes, the line will require more than one vessel.
As a further development, new highway linking Bang Saphan Port with Ranong Port on Andaman sea may if built, become a land bridge across Kra Isthmus, connecting northeast Thailand with its’ southwest provinces and Andaman sea ports, including Yangon Port of Myanmar (via Ranong).

Another project under consideration is a ferry line Laem Chabang / Sriracha-Songkhla Deep Sea Port. Songkhla, also known as Singgora or Singora, is a city in Songkhla Province of southern Thailand, near the border with Malaysia.
The Cabinet on 7 May 2019 approved the development of Chana district, Songkhla Province, as the fourth model city in the deep South, yo be developed into an industrial model city for the future, aimed at generating employment and income for local people, as well as promoting local production, sea freight, and tourism. Major industries include ago-industry for seafood processing and the production of rubber and oil palm.
Project, to be carried out by the private sector, in accordance with 5-year plan from 2019 to 2023, includes the development of the second Songkhla deep sea port, the investment in the construction of an Energy Complex, the establishment of the Chana Industrial Estate, water and environmental management, and the setting up of a fund for the development of the quality of life of the people.
All relevant governmental bodies are working together in setting various incentives to encourage the private sector to invest in the Chana model city.
Private investors already indicated their interest in this ferry line, but there are no specifics yet, and no definite timeline.

One more potentially viable ro-pax ferry link can connect Laem Chabang /Sattahip ports with Surat Thani Port, Surat Thani province, southern Thailand, but the problem lies with Surat Thani entry channel depths, which as of now, aren’t sufficient to provide navigation of big vessels. There are no known potential private investors yet, interested in this project, because, understandably, there are no definite projects on port and canal reconstruction.

Short-sea routes can and should have significantly bigger share of Thailand inner transportation, so there’s quite a potential for short-sea routes growth. Bangkok is the biggest motorways hub in the country, the city is plagued by heavy traffic, substantial part of it being transiting trucks and cars, connecting southern provinces with main Thailand sea ports, scattered along northeast coast of Gulf of Siam.
There’s a perceptible, visible disproportion between short-sea, and motorways cargo flows. Nation’s every main motorway crosses Bangkok, starts in Bangkok or ends in Bangkok, adding up to its’ traffic woes, and negatively impacting transportation costs and effectiveness. With growing industrial production, trade and tourism volumes, land transportation as the main and indeed, the only option, has become a negative factor, hampering nation’s economy growth. Geographically, it’s inevitable, because North and South are connected by a narrow isthmus bridge with Bangkok on top of it, thus physically constraining land cargo flows. It is straining main motorways, running along coastline, Bangkok and coastal communities roads, to the limits of their traffic capacity, not to mention environmental concerns.
Short-sea routes development seem to be much better option, than endless motorways renovations and construction of ever new by-passes. Short-sea routes development is slowly gathering way, though there’s growing risk, that spinning “environment” restrictions and extra costs, imposed on shipping globally and locally, may render short-sea shipping non-viable or plainly impossible.
There’s one more concern, one more predicament to slow down or suspend short-sea projects. There’s a growing feeling of economy being overstretched, not just Thailand economy, but globally, including Thailand. Governments and other bodies spendings are spiraling out of control, like there’s not much time left until the end of the world, and all they care about is not to be late with bankruptcy in this insane race.

Voytenko Mikhail
December 2019

Sattahip Commercial Port, Ferry, tourists flows, high-speed train. Pattaya – Hua Hin passenger ferry.

Author

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My name is Mikhail Voytenko, I’m Russian, professional merchant marine navigator, by education and former experience. I own and run Maritime Bulletin website for more than 10 years. I've been involved in solving a number of piracy hijack cases, including the hijack of ro-ro FAINA, loaded with tanks. It was me who made public, and unravel, freighter ARCTIC SEA mystery. I've been also closely involved in a number of maritime disaster, one of them being MSC FLAMINIA major fire.