In a step designed both to reduce transportation costs and relieve congestion on the roads, Inland Water Transport (IWT) is about to introduce the first container barge to ferry goods from ports to industrial zones, with three vessels to be introduced each year for the next five years.
State-owned IWT’s managing director U Zaw Win told The Myanmar Times that the nation’s waterway facilities will be upgraded to allow the vessels to play a larger role in carrying trade.
IWT, which is part of the Ministry of Transport and Communication, signed an agreement to build the container buses with SA Marine Company at the end of 2014 by arrangement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The first 60-metre long, 15m wide container ship was built in Yangon, at Sinmalite dock in Kyeemyindaing township, with extensive use of Japanese technology. It cost K440 million to build and can carry up to 22, 12m (40-foot) containers.
“The project was completed earlier this year. We did a 20-day round trip test run from Yangon to Semikhon Jetty in Mandalay Region in March, and a 28-day test run in June from Yangon to Mandalay,” said U Zaw Win.
“We already have two more water barge containers, and plan to build three more each year over a five-year business plan. We will also build a passenger ship and oil tankers, either with a government grant or an Overseas Development Assistance loan,” he said.
“We can’t yet use the container barges for long trips because jetty facilities are inadequate. The main watercourses, the Ayeyarwady and Chindwin rivers, will need extensive upgrading and maintenance.
Meanwhile, the vessels will be used to transport goods from Asia World or Botahtaung port terminal to Shwe Pyithar industrial zone.
“This will take a lot of trucks off the road as well as reducing transportation costs,” U Zaw Win said.
Yangon Region government is also planning to develop water transportation infrastructure and logistics.
“The next step is to improve the links from the jetty to rail and bus stations to reduce costs still further,” U Zaw Win said, adding that water transportation will cost around one-fifth of the cost of road transportation, once the upgraded facilities are in place.
“At the moment, IWT cannot offer a good service to passengers either,” he said.
Most passengers, faced with the prospect of riding on uncomfortable goods vessels, prefer to go by road.
“First, we will change the system and run separate services for passengers and goods,” said U Zaw Win.
IWT operates 170 powered vessels, including passenger-cum-cargo boats, cargo ships, barges, water tenders, tugs, oil tankers and other boats, as well as 123 non-powered cargo barges, seven oil barges and 30 station pontoons.
Rice trader U Nay Lin Zin welcomed the news. “Frankly speaking, the jetties have not really been improved for the last 30 or 40 years,” he said.
Some jetties have no space to rest bags of rice, he said, noting that costs are also a major problem. It costs K300 to ship a bag of rice from Myaung Mya in Ayeyarwady Region to Yangon, but labour charges at Yangon port are K150 per bag and to take each bag of rice from the jetty into storage in Hlaing tharyar township costs another K250 to K300, he said.
“If the government could provide us with an interchange system by connecting the jetties with a railway to all destinations it would be much more convenient.”