The Kra-Thai Canal a mega-project that will enhance the world maritime logistics system.
If we look at the world map from the North Pole, we will see that the Earth consists of 4 major choke-points for maritime transportation they are: the Bering Straits, the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and the Straits of Malacca. Among all the choke-points, the Straits of Malacca is the most utilized for world maritime transport. And indeed when we look at the Asia-Pacific centered world map, the Straits of Malacca is the center linking Pacific and Indian Oceans.
According to the IMO, more than 1/5 of world cargos pass through the Straits of Malacca. Every day more than 16million barrels of oil from the Middle East passes through the Straits to supply China, Japan and the whole East and South-East Asia.
It’s not surprising that the port of Singapore, port of Hong Kong and port of Shanghai are the world biggest ports of today offsetting those in Europe and the US. Asia-Pacific region comprises of2/3 of the world population, of China and India have proven that population is a vital motor for an economic growth. Subsequently, many economists regard Asia-Pacific region as the future for growth and prosperity. The growth of China has proven nowadays, that with massive constructions of infrastructure inside the country has elevated China to an economic power house next to the USA. The growth of China and India including South East Asia will make the passage of the Malacca channel problematic for the maritime transportation in the near future.
Why a canal is needed to solve to problem of the Straits of Malacca? At the present situation, the Straits of Malacca is the shortest water way linking the Pacific and Indian Ocean the other alternative will be further south at the Straits of Lombok and Sunda in Indonesia. If a canal is constructed across the Ismuth is the South of Thailand, it will present the ideal solution to the future navigation in the region:
1) The Kra-Thai Canal would be the shortest water way linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Subsequently the Kra-Thai Canal would save time and expense for the ocean freights.
2) The Kra-Thai Canal would be the solution to the already congested Straits of Malacca, thus guarantee the free flow of merchandises for trades in the fast growing region.
3) A massive investments of infrastructure build up for the construction of the canal itself and other facilities (Cities, ports, industries etc.) will create a ripple effect for the economic growth in the region as a whole, thus guarantee the future of economic prosperity of the region.
4) Countries in the region can jointly collaborate in such a project. The Kra-Thai Canal could be a part of China Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as the recent US Indian-Pacific Ocean Initiative. The Kra-Thai Canal could be a linkage point of collaborations between East and West for prosperity and development, thus create environment for long lasting peace in the region.
5) The Kra-Thai Canal would change the ship size for the ocean freight . Currently the size of ocean cargo freights are limited by PanaMAX, SuezMAX, MalaccaMAX according to the draft of the different4 channels. The Kra-Thai Canal will be deep enough to accommodate larger cargo vessels of the future. We could expect that Kra-ThaiMAX would be able to cater to more than 500,000 dwt vessels. This would definitely serve the growing economic expansion and the maritime transport of the future to come.
The problems of navigation in the Straits of Malacca. The Straits of Malacca is an international water way governed by the United Nations Covention of Law of the Sea 1982(LOSC) ie. Vessels and
aircrafts of all flags may exercise the unimpeded right of transit passage while navigating through the Straits. Because it represents the shortest route linking the two Oceans (the Pacific and the Indian), for more than hundred of years, since the time of Zheng He( 1405-1433 AD) the famous Chinese Admiral who with his fleets took the passage of the Straits of Malacca to explore the whole world.
Nowadays, Most ocean freights that want to navigate between the two Oceans have to pass through the Straits of Malacca which makes it the busiest in the world. Subsequently, with the domination of the British Colony, Singapore becomes one of the most important ports of the world.
In the year 2010, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) reported that the Straits of Malacca was accommodating 6 times the amount of ships that went through the Suez Canal. This amount represented 20% of the world trade, which amounted up to 4,231 million dwt of cargo according to Lloyd’s MIU of Singapore.
It was reported by the PSA(Port of Singapore Authority) that by the year 2016, there were about 130,000 ships (ocean freights and small feeders) called the port of Singapore. The City State managed to capture 2000 million tons of cargos out of 4230 million tons that pass through the Straits every year.
According to the study HM Ibrahim &Mansoureh from the Maritime Institute of Malaysia, the Straits of Malacca is almost reach it’s full capcity. At the present time, there are about 90,000 ocean vessels that go through the Straits yearly. According to the study, the Straits can accommodate maximum of122,640 vessel. With an increase of about 6.2% per year, the Straits of Malacca will be quasi pact full by the year 2024. This means that some soon solutions have to be reached in order to guarantee the free and smooth navigation for trades and security. Many people are thinking of Land Bridge. Nevertheless, Land Bridge is not only very costly, the loading and unloading of the same merchandise with two vessels waiting on both sides of the Oceans is far from practical in terms of transition of large amount of cargos.
Already, at present, the Straits of Malacca represents difficulty for many navigators. On August 20,2017, USS John McCain had collided with a Singaporean tanker in Singapore Straits, 10 sailors were missing. Luckily a grave accident had just been avoided; an explosion and oil spill could create a big catastrophe for the countries in the riverin. The sudden halt of cargo freight in the most important choke point would result into for example to the tripling of the oil price. Besides, many hazardous events such as piracy, terrorism, traffic chokes at the Philippe Channel, some parts between Port Klang and Philippe Channel are two shallow (6 areas of choke points) etc., make it hard for navigation so hard that Lloyd’s Market Association Joint War Committee qualified the Straits of Malacca as a War Zone in 2004.
In this respect, the Thai-Kra Canal if constructed would create an alternative to the Straits of Malacca, ready to supply the demand of mordern sea freight. The Canal could accommodate larger tankers and cargos of more than 500,000dwt increasing the capability of trades and developments of countries in Asia-Pacific region to accommodate both the Chinese concept of Belt and Road Initiative and the US proposal of Indo-Pacific Infrastructure Development as well.