The Ministry of Transport has approved 45 build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects worth 11 trillion VND (505.6 million USD) to upgrade waterway routes, estuaries and ports.

The projects, to be implemented during the 2015-20 period, aim to provide a major boost for waterway transportation in the country, said Tran Van Tho, Deputy Head of the Vietnam Inland Waterway Department.

These are the first-ever BOT projects for the waterway transport sector, he added.

Tho expressed confidence that the 45 projects would attract investors, given their genuine development potential. "Take the project on Tra Ly River in Thai Binh Province, for example. There are two big thermal power plants in the area that need nine million tonnes of coal every year.

"The distance for transporting coal from Quang Ninh province to the plants is 280km on the current Luoc River route. The BOT project will open a new coastal route will shorten the distance to 140km," he said.

He said the new projects marked a growing recognition of the fact that waterways offer the cheapest transportation option.

Several seminars have been held to identify and remove hurdles faced by waterway transport businesses, and the department has been providing support in terms of infrastructure facilities and easier administrative procedures, he said.

The department has also asked relevant agencies to dredge rivers and canals and upgrade signal systems on all routes.

So far, three master plans have been prepared for inland waterway transport development, including two detailed plans for waterway port systems in the North and South, have been formulated, said Tho.

He said many projects on upgrading infrastructure facilities have been carried out on the 45 main routes. These include World Bank-funded projects in the Mekong Delta, Hanoi, Hai Phong city, as well as the northern provinces of Ninh Binh, Thanh Hoa and Quang Ninh.

However, Tho conceded that water transport safety was a cause for concern.

In the first half of the year, there were 63 waterway accidents, 19 more than the same period last year. The main reasons for the accidents were traffic rule violations and drunken ship conductors.

He said waterway management agencies in localities have been asked to review signal systems on all routes, and take measures to control overloaded vehicles and illegal wharfs.-VNA