By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune
KARACHI: “I take strong exception to the allegations that Pakistan International Bulk Terminal will cause environmental degradation,” said Sharique A Siddiqui, CEO of Pakistan International Bulk Terminal Limited (PIBT), in an interview with The Express Tribune.
Holding in his hand a newspaper story on the recent public hearing about the environmental and social impact assessment study on Pakistan’s first coal, clinker and cement terminal that PIBT is building at Port Qasim, Siddiqui said best international practices were being followed to keep the project environment friendly.
“Just look at the environmentally disastrous way dirty cargo is handled every day at our ports,” he said while showing a number of videos on his laptop, which were apparently recorded with a mobile phone.
The scenes were indeed horrific. A gigantic crane grabs dirty cargo in huge quantities and dumps it onto the berth. A cloud of dust rises and covers the entire area visible on the screen. From there, it is loaded onto open trucks with the help of a shovel loader. No water sprinklers are used. No physical safety measures are visible.
In contrast, Siddiqui said, PIBT will have mechanised cargo handling services with a trestle bridge connecting the storage area to the jetty with fully covered conveyor belts, thus minimising pollution.
PIBT received the no-objection certificate from Sindh Environmental Protection Agency on December 9.
PIBT is being built primarily to facilitate the import of coal and export of cement in bulk quantities. So what about Thar coal reserves, which are reportedly one of the largest in the world? Will their development reduce the terminal’s usefulness in terms of coal import?
“What I’ve read in newspapers is that Thar coal is of low quality. It has high sulphur content and high moisture. Coal gasification may be a good idea and coal-based power generation at Thar also seems viable, but its mining and transportation to all over the country may not be practical,” Siddiqui said.
Roughly, five million tons of coal is imported every year. The main consumers of the imported coal are cement manufacturers.
Domestic consumption of cement between July 2010 and June 2011 was 22 million tons. About 9.4 million tons were exported. The cement manufacturing capacity utilisation was just over 76%, as total cement production capacity in the same period was 41.2 million tons.
Currently, only one bulk export ‘facility’ for cement exists at Karachi Port, which is run by Lucky Cement for its cement export operations. “Out of more or less 30 cement manufacturers in Pakistan, only Lucky Cement is actively taking advantage of the bulk export market. PIBT will help all the cement manufacturers export cement in bulk in an efficient and environmentally safe manner,” Siddiqui said.
PIBT is being established on a 30-year build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) basis at a cost of $170 million. The “landlord port concept,” in which port authorities become landlords and terminals are developed through private-public partnership, was introduced in the country during the 1990s by the World Bank.
Siddiqui said typically a vessel had to wait for three days due to the absence of mechanised handling of dirty cargo at the Karachi Port. “The total handling capacity of cement, clinker and coal at PIBT will be 3,600 tons per hour, which means that a vessel of 35,000 tons will be discharged in just one day.”
He said at least 500 jobs would be created in the construction phase of PIBT. Once the terminal becomes operational, he added, it is likely to create thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22, 2011.