Matarbari: The next hub of power and port

Only four years ago, vast swaths of Matarbari at Moheshkhali in Cox’s Bazar had been used for salt farming. Now, huge turbines and chimneys have changed the landscape of the remote area in the southeast coast of Bangladesh.

A huge construction project is gradually giving shape to a Tk 360 billion coal-based power plant with two units and a combined capacity of 1,200MW in Matarbari.

A plan to set up a deep-sea port, the first in Bangladesh, for the plant is also being translated into reality. The jetty has already been constructed and some ships have docked there as the government transforms Matarbari into a major power and shipping hub.

Besides the infrastructural changes, the island of Matarbari is expected to play a significant role in boosting the national economy by becoming a hub for power generation, industrial production and fuel import.

The Sheikh Hasina administration has planned a total of 68 projects related to power generation, a natural gas import terminal, a container terminal and a special economic zone.

“Matarbari will become a power hub for the country. It will play a lead role in bringing a positive change to the national economy,” said Nasrul Hamid, state minister for power, energy and mineral resources.

The government expects investment worth more than $10 billion in Matarbari. “This will provide employment opportunities and push up the GDP growth with increased productivity in the industrial sector,” the state minister added.

Tall cranes gradually come into focus on the horizon while approaching Matarbari. After arriving in the area, thousands of local and foreign workers can be seen busying themselves with heavy machineries.

Work on the project spanning across 1,414 acres of land in Moheshkhali’s Matarbari and Dhalghata unions began in 2018 with funds from Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA.

After the government approval in 2015, Coal Power Generation Company signed a contract with the Japanese consortium Sumitomo Corporation, Toshiba Corporation and IHI Corporation in 2017 to build the power plant and the deep sea port.

The present government had prioritised a plan to set up a deep-sea port in Sonadia of Moheshkhali as policymakers and experts felt the need for the structure to cater for boosting exports and imports, but it made no progress.

The government later tweaked its plan to set up a sea port for the plant only. Now the plan is to set up a commercial port that can be used for the plant and other purposes.

The authorities have filled the entire Matarbari project area with sand and soil to elevate it a few metres from the sea level in order to protect it from natural disasters such as a storm surge.

Project Director Abul Kalam Azad hopes to launch the first unit of the power plant in January 2024 and the second one in July the same year as the work has progressed 56 percent so far.

The construction of a 14.3km long, 250m wide and 18.5m deep channel for the port is complete. The work to widen the channel by another 100 metres is ongoing.

Once completed, the channel will enable ships with a capacity of 80,000 tonnes to sail in. It will look like the Kashima Port in Japan, according to Toshiba Corporation, one of the contractors of the project.

Two jetties have been constructed for the plant and a dozen more will be built for commercial use. One of the jetties for the plant will be used to import coal and the other for oil.