KARACHI: Pakistan’s first coal-dedicated import terminal has started operations on a commercial basis at Port Qasim, ahead of the initiation of several power projects.
“The company has successfully completed its project i.e., a terminal to handle bulk cargo vessels at Port Qasim and has formally commenced commercial operations,” Pakistan International Bulk Terminal Limited (PIBT) Company Secretary Arsalan I. Khan said in a notification to the Pakistan Stock Exchange on Tuesday.
PIBT is a public listed company being traded at the Pakistan Stock Exchange. Its stock price hit the upper limit of 5%, closing at Rs23.28 with 2.78 million shares changing hands on Tuesday.
The dirty bulk terminal has also established facilities to provide dedicated export services to cement and clinker manufacturers. The port has a capacity to handle 12 million tons of bulk cargo per year. The facilities have been established at a cost of $285 million.
“At present, we are only importing coal,” an official of the company told The Express Tribune.
An independent expert on ports, Captain Anwar Shah, said the country has been importing 5-7 million ton cola per annum. “Demand for coal is set to go up with several imported coal-fired power plants due to come online. The demand may surge to 12-15 million tons in the near future, depending upon timelines of productions from the power projects,” he estimated.
According to the federal government’s Private Power and Infrastructure Board, the country is to light up over 2,900-megawatt worth of imported coal-fired power projects till December 2019.
Sahiwal’s (Punjab) coal-fired power project of 1,320-megawatts, which is under testing phase these days, had earlier established an understanding to import coal via PIBT. Later, it changed its plan and started importing the commodity via two underdevelopment marginal wharf jetties at Port Qasim, it was learnt.
At present, PIBT has been importing coal mostly for Awan Trading (Private) Limited, which is a huge importer and supplier of the commodity in the country.
Besides, coal is also a basic raw material for cement manufacturing.
The export of cement, however, has remained subdued since South Africa imposed anti-dumping duty on several Pakistan-based cement exporters in mid of 2015.
Besides, exports to India also remained sluggish since regional competitors Iran and China become active in recent years.
Cargo handling time down
The company official added PIBT is an automated terminal, which has reduced loading and unloading time significantly when compared to the manual loading and unloading system.
According to a recent statement from PIBT, “a coal cargo ship with similar tonnage currently takes around seven days (at the other port) while the same cargo can be handled within two days at PIBT due to the modern and mechanised handling system.”
The official added that China Harbour Engineering Company has set up the automated system called ‘Scada’ which is operated by a single man sitting in a chair and loading and unloading vessels with the help of real-time visual on a big screen.“The system is capable of unloading 1,800 tons coal per hour and loading 3,600 tons of cement and clinker per hour,” he said.
Environmental risks and measures
Most firms in the country import crushed coal from Australia and Indonesia instead of broken coal.
Captain Shah said powered coal was a big health risk to the people living in the surrounding and in the city of seaports. The import of crushed coal at Karachi Port has caused different diseases to the people living in Kemari and nearby areas. “The coal dust, after mixing into the air, hits Clifton localities from Karachi Port in the monsoon season,” he said
PIBT is believed to put in place measures to control environmental risks including through water sprinklers. This would also save coal from catching fire in hot days, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2017.