VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam’s coast extends for 3260 kilometers. Vietnam’s sea area is three times our land area. Half of our population lives near the coast. The world’s busiest sea route passes through our seas. With these advantages, it’s ironic that Vietnam has never been considered a seafaring nation. How can the country accomplish that, and even more, become a sea power?”
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Local and foreign experts agree that Vietnam has favourable circumstances for development of a maritime economy and for its emergence as a shipping centre for the region and the world.
The western shore of the East Sea (what the rest of the world calls the South China Sea) is rich in natural resources, especially oil. Of even greater significance, Vietnam’s waters are on the vital shipping route that connects East Asia with Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Vietnam’s long coast offers many bays and estuaries. This geographical position is very favorable for development of a maritime economy. Government planners expect the shipping sector to become increasingly important to Vietnam’s economy. According to the Maritime Agency, Vietnam’s shipping industry has grown nearly 12 percent annually in recent years, faster than other transport sectors.
Dr. Nguyen Tuan Hoa is deputy director of the HCM City Centre for Studies and Development. He judges that Vietnam is in a very favorable position to develop sea transport within its region and to the rest of the world. Another HCMC economist sees an advantage in Vietnam’s geography: it not only has a long coast, but also a productive hinterland. It doesn’t have to send its goods through neighboring countries and it can become a natural outlet for the products of northeast Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and China’s Yunnan province.
Small and medium-sized ships can bring goods from other nearby countries to Vietnamese ports where they can be transhipped. The Malaysian news agency, Bernama, recently quoted international experts as saying that Vietnam could become a logistic centre for the region and the world.
Competitive strategy guru Michael Porter, in a presentation on Vietnam’s comparitive advantage in late 2008, also urged a role for Vietnam as a regional logistic center. Dr. Chu Quang Thu, former acting director of the Vietnam Maritime Agency, agrees that Vietnam has big potential for developing a maritime economy. “Not only does the nation have many bays that are appropriate sites for ports of various scales,” Thu says, “but we also have a favorable climate. Our waters never freeze; we can work year round.”
Van Phong Bay, just north of Nhatrang, is bidding to become an international transhipment port. This deepwater bay is only 30km from the international shipping lanes. It can compare to Singapore or Hong Kong in terms of geography and natural conditions, and accommodate the largest vessels now built.
The only problem is a lack of vision
Four decades ago Singapore was insignificant. Now it is the world’s leading transhipment port. Vietnam’s maritime advantages are not less than Singapore’s but so far the nation has not greatly profited from them.
With only 5 million people, Singapore has a merchant fleet totaling 55.5 million tons. Vietnam, with over 85 million people, has a merchant fleet of less than four million tons. Singapore’s international container port handled 29 million standard containers of of goods in 2007; Vietnam’s ports handled four million.
The largest container vessels can carry over 15,000 TEU (standard shipping containers). Many ports can welcome ships that big, but Vietnam’s largest port so far, Cai Mep, southeast of HCM City, can only host ships of up to 6,000 TEU. Haiphong and Saigon Ports can welcome ships of 2000-3000 TEU. Thus, Vietnamese ports are still off the list of big cargo transporting firms.
Why is Vietnam not a logistics centre for the region and the world? Dr. Thu, a tireless promoter of the Van Phong deepwater port project, says that the biggest reason is a lack of vision. Vietnam has not focused its resources to develop big seaports with good and cheap logistical and stevedore services, he says, nor has the nation mobilized capital from all sources to develop port infrastructure.
Cao Tien Thu, former general director of Haiphong Port, said that Vietnam has great potential to develop a maritime economy. The country has sea, seaports and maritime experience, but its fleet is modest. By building up its merchant fleet, Vietnam can become a sea power, Thu says.
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