SAN FRANCISCO - Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is pitching the government’s trillion-baht southern land bridge project to US investors as a way to significantly cut shipping times between the Indian and Pacific oceans by bypassing the Strait of Malacca.
Mr Srettha told investors in San Francisco on Monday that the project could cut travel time by an average of four days and lower shipping costs by 15%. With traffic volumes projected to exceed the Strait of Malacca’s capacity by 2030, the new project will ensure seamless flow of goods, he said.
The land bridge project is expected to cost about 1 trillion baht, with seaports to be built in Ranong on the Andaman Sea and Chumphon on the Gulf of Thailand and linked by road-rail and pipeline network. The 100-kilometre connection would replace a centuries-old proposal to dredge a canal through the Isthmus of Kra.
The Ranong-Chumphon project is the latest in a decades-long parade of proposals to create a link between the Andaman and the Gulf of Thailand and reduce the need for shipping via the Strait of Malacca.
Previous proposals have failed to catch on, with opposition from communities and environmentalists a key obstacle.
The Strait of Malacca — a narrow sea lane between Malaysia and Indonesia — is the shortest sea route linking the Asia-Pacific region to India and the Middle East. About a quarter of the world’s traded goods pass through the strait and it will only become busier, pushing up shipping costs, Mr Srettha said, noting that there are more than 60 maritime accidents a year on average in the passage.
“The land bridge will be an additional important route to support transport and an important option for resolving the problems of the Malacca Strait,” he said. “This will be a cheaper, faster and safer route.”
The port in Ranong would have capacity to handle 19.4 million 20-foot containers, and the one in Chumphon is designed for 13.8 million containers, together accounting for about 23% of the Port of Malacca’s total cargo, he said.
The prime minister said the project, which he has also pitched to investors in China and Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, will help create 280,000 jobs and propel the country’s annual economic growth rate to 5.5% when fully implemented.
The land bridge “presents an unprecedented opportunity to invest in this commercially and strategically important project that connects the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, connecting people in the East with the West”, he said.
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