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Bechtel still a player in Sydney port project despite deal with Chinese firm

Monday, 21 December 2015 | 10:00

Multinational engineering firm Bechtel will continue to work with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to develop Sydney harbour as a commercial port, even though a Chinese firm has signed an agreement with the municipality.

“We’re very much still on the team,” says Rex Gundle, a senior port and marine project manager with San Francisco-headquartered Bechtel.

“In every major infrastructure project … you have multiple contractors in the development of any infrastructure, and each engineering firm has specialities.”

Mayor Cecil Clarke said in June that Bechtel was establishing a presence in the Sydney area and the company was working to determine the cost of building and operating a container terminal.

Last week, the mayor announced a deal with another firm, China Communications Construction Company, for it to design and build the terminal.

Gundle notes CCCC has a direct link with a firm that manufactures cranes used extensively in huge construction projects.

He also points out Bechtel has many of its own areas of expertise in port construction, and says the firm used those skills in recent years to build the Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi.

Gundle says Khalifa handles the biggest ships in the world at its container terminal because it has a deep harbour.

‘Port that’s ready for construction’

Harbour depth is an advantage that Sydney should exploit, he says, as the municipality bids to attract investors for a container terminal.

There are also more than 200 hectares of available land around the site, and there are no harbour bridges preventing ships from sailing all the way in, an issue for many ports along the eastern seaboard.

Bechtel is conducting a $650,000 feasibility study for a terminal, with costs split between the company, CBRM, and Harbor-Port Development Partners, which has been hired to market the port.

Gundle refers to Sydney as “a port that’s ready for construction,” and describes it as the front-runner among east coast cities seeking a terminal.

“The project-owner is in possession of all the permits necessary to start construction,” he says, outlining what he sees as the port’s many advantages for vast container ships coming from Asia, the Middle East and northern Europe.”

“It’s two days closer sailing than New York, three days closer than Virginia. It’s two days closer than Montreal, with the ability to handle bigger ships.”

Low costs, big ships

He says the company is working hard to build a business case for the proposed container terminal.

As for the Chinese company’s involvement, Gundle says it’s preferable to have many firms devoted to making the project happen because there’s so much work to bring it to fruition.

What it comes down to, he says, is creating a container terminal that keeps costs down for shipping companies.

To attract container business, the proposed terminal must be able to offer lower port costs and welcome the biggest container ships on the planet, because the unit cost per container goes down as the number a ship can carry rises.

Gundle believes that’s what Sydney can accomplish: “a low-cost terminal operation.”

He says the port project’s primary focus is trans-shipment of containers. That means shipping them overseas to Sydney on one super-sized vessel and then discharging containers to other ships, which then transport them to ports on the U.S. east coast and the Montreal area.
Source: CBC

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