Our Future Port

I was searching for something in my office when I came across this. This picture of Muara Port came from a BEDB presentation about the Pulau Muara Besar project (PMB is that island opposite the Port). For some reason when I saw the photo of the port, it really reminded me of my time when I was a Ports Officer. Many many years ago, my then Permanent Secretary had a policy that whenever a Division II or I officer goes on leave from one of the departments under the Ministry of Communications, he would try to put one of the Ministry's officers acting in that department. So during my stint at MOC, I ended up working for a few weeks at various departments and one of them was as a Ports Officer at the Ports Department.

In the late 1980s, our Ports were starting to have competition from various ports around the region, there is Miri Port, Baram Port or Port Baram if you want to save yourself some embarrasment by saying the wrong thing. Ports competitiveness is the services and the prices that they charge for their services. Cheap enough charges, even Brunei companies would import through Miri and move their goods inland via trucks. Our port unfortunately have a hard time against these other ports.

The Pulau Muara Besar project was a project which had been long in the pipeworks. The PMB is supposed to be a saviour. Bring our port's competitiveness to a higher level and provide all sorts of services. Even by the time when I was working at the Economic Council Secretariat in 2000, the project must have been at least 10 years by then. There was a book produced about Brunei by Cable and Evans for the APEC in 1999 and even that book had photos of what PMB was supposed to look like.

Anyway, BEDB last year launched the PMB Project which you can read for yourself from BEDB's website here. In a nutshell, (copied from the website) the BEDB has appointed International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI) from the Philippines as the port operator for the container port to be developed at PMB. ICTSI is a major international port operator with market capitalization of USD 1.5 billion and with operations in 11 countries including China, Indonesia, Japan, Poland, Brazil and Philippines.

The BEDB has also appointed a consortium led by Surbana from Singapore to develop an integrated master plan for PMB. The Surbana led consortium has 40 years experience in planning, designing, developing and managing infrastructure projects in 41 cities in 20 countries including Suzhou Industrial Park in China and King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia. The BEDB is reviewing a number of investment proposals for PMB including a proposal from Alcoa from the USA to develop a USD 1.8 billion Aluminum Smelter at PMB.

One of the problems that Brunei has is that our Port's water is not as deep as it can be. I was told that today's Super Container Ship barely has clearance to come to Brunei Port. So there is a need for the channel to be deepened. What is also not said but widely known is that the current port is already sharing areas with many other services including the navy, police and other industries. So the PMB is needed if we do want to expand our port's services.

Under the PMB project, the existing channel will be deepened and the dredged sand will be used to enlarge Pulau Muara Besar. The new port at PMB will be developed in phases, with the first phase creating a straight line quay of 660m. And a bridge will also be built to link PMB Island to the mainland. Over time, many facilities are expected to be built on the island. The PMB will take time to develope. According to the mastersheet that was given to me, it will be October this year when the master plan options are completed and it will be June next year before the invitation to tender will be opened for bidding. So it will be quite sometime yet before we can see this future PMB:-

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