Traffic through Phnom Penh port fell in 1999, with the number of ships and the volume of shipments both dropping by roughly 20 percent, officials said Wednesday.
A total of 868 ships came through the port in 1999, compared with 1,069 in 1998, according to a report by port officials. The volume of trade went down from 619,591 tons in 1998 to 461,865 in 1999. Officials said the port lost money in 1999 due to the decreased traffic, but figures weren’t available.
One of the reasons the port has lost business is that many shipping companies that want to go to Cambodia have to go through Vietnam first, said Hei Bavy, deputy director of the Phnom Penh port. Those ships are required to receive a license from either Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi according to an agreement that the Ministry of Commerce here signed with its Vietnamese counterparts in 1994.
Although the license is free, the cost of making the trip to Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi is discouraging ships from coming to Phnom Penh.
“It was not a good idea to make the traders fly to Vietnam to get a license because it wastes time and it costs at least $300 to make the trip,” Hei Bavy said.
But Khek Ravy, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, said the reason for the loss of traffic is it costs less to sail to Sihanoukville and transport goods to Phnom Penh by truck than to sail directly to the capital.
Indeed, the volume of trade at the Sihanoukville port has been increasing because of the advantages it offers, going from almost 884,950 tons in 1998 to 1.1 million tons in 1999. As a result, officials are focusing more on improving the Sihanoukville port, Khek Ravy said.
Cambodian and Japanese officials have agreed on a $39 million loan to expand and renovate the Sihanoukville port, which can handle 10,000-ton ships.
Because of the shallow water levels in the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers to Phnom Penh, the port there can handle ships carrying only 2,000 tons, Khek Ravy said.
“It’s not a problem that can easily be solved,” Khek Ravy said of the shallow river water in the city.
Mong Reththy, a tycoon, said he used to use the Phnom Penh port, but now he mostly send his ships through Sihanoukville because of such factors as lower transportation costs and the capability to handle larger ships.
Other problems include the government’s crackdown on illegal logging and the increase in timber royalties. Port officials said six logging concession companies no longer ship their products through the port.
Hei Bavy said strengthening management at the port and having the Ministry of Commerce talk to Vietnam about shipping licenses are some of the ways to improve profits in Phnom Penh.
“I’m very worried that ships won’t want to come to Phnom Penh,” he said. “If the situation continues, the port will lose more money.”