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Thailand - Kra Canal

The Kra Canal is a proposed canal across the Isthmus of Kra, connecting Malacca with the rest of Asia. It would be but 22 miles in length, and would shorten by 1500 miles the distance between the Suez Canal and ports of China and Japan. By cutting a canal across the Isthmus of Kra, seldom more than 50 miles across, will produce a time saving of almost three days. The canal would not only make the sea journey faster, but also safer by avoiding the congested Straits of Mallaca.

Linking the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand with the Kra Canal is not a new idea. King Narai of Ayutthaya (1629-1688) first mooted the idea in 1677, but it was only during the reign of King Rama V Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) that the canal was first seriously contemplated.Over the course of a century, there were numerous attempts to dig a canal across the Isthmus of Kra. Yet, despite all the considerable surveys and feasibility studies, every single attempt failed to take off beyond the planning stages.

When the French Government Survey Expedition in 1883 was understood to have reported against the project, France was only established in Cochin China. All the trade that might have come from Saigon and Bangkok would have returned but a fractional interest on the outlay, and very little of the China and Indian trade could have been expected to pass through. Now, however, that France has practically annexed Camboja, and will, at the proper time, do the like with Annam and Tonking, not to mention the slow progress westward which may confidently be anticipated, it seemed worth while discussing the chances and difficulties of the proposition to make a short cut to the France Nouvclle of the future, the great Indo-Chinese Empire, which is to include Cochin China, Camboja, Annam, Tongking, Laos, and Siam, and is to balance the English power in India.

The isthmus is situated a little less than half-way down the Malay Peninsula, at the point where the last offshoots of the Himalayan range fall away, and the mountain backbone of the peninsula begins. The northern shore of the Bay of Bengal entrance to the proposed canal is British territory, Malawoon being the southernmost district of British Burma. The fact that Britain had territory, police stations, tin mines, as well as forest land along part of the canal route gave Britain a special interest in the French proposal, apart altogether from a consideration of the influence such a canal might have on the trade of Singapore. Otherwise it was Siam that has most say in the matter, or would have a say if she were not afraid to hint anything that might give the French grounds, even the faintest, for a quarrel.

The Kra route passed through a hilly district some twenty miles or so across before it opens out into the low country. The whole distance between the river ChumPon, flowing into the China Sea, and the mouth of the river Pakchan on the west, was twenty-seven miles as the crow flies, but the jungle track now existing is very tortuous and uneven. The highest point to be passed was two hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea, and the average height of the hilly strip was a hundred and thirty feet. Thirty feet added to this for the depth of the canal would give a hundred and sixty feet as the average depth of the necessary cutting.

Moreover, this huge cutting would be for the greater part of the distance through rock, which is hard to cut, and yet not rock that will stand weathering and last like the sides of the Panama Canal. Assuming that this prodigious amount of earth and stone can be taken out, there comes a new difficulty in the question, what is to be done with it. It cannot be shot in any part of the hilly country. It would therefore be necessary to carry it miles away into the open plains.

At the meeting on Tuesday 16 October 2001 the cabinet came to a decision on the feasibility study of Kra Canal undertaken by Ministry of Transport and Communication. To achieve the proposed project, the National Committee on Feasibility Study was set up. In this regard, Deputy Prime Minister who oversees Ministry of Defence is a Chairman of the Committee. Minister of Defence and Minister of Transport and Communication are Vice Chairmen of the Committee.

The "Report on the Thai canal project / prepared by the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Kra Canal Project, Kingdom of Thailand, the House of Senate" was released in 2004 by the Thailand Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Kra Canal Project. To cost at least US$20 billion, the project proposes to carve out a 50-km waterway across Thailand’s narrow Kra Isthmus. The canal will allow vessels plying the Europe-Middle East-North Asia route to bypass the Straits of Malacca and cut their journey by at least 1,000km. Of course, any vessel bypassing the Straits will bypass Singapore too.

The Kra Canal Initiative (KCI), an independent body which began its feasibility study in 1989, selected a specific route for the Canal, according to KCI Secretary General Weerapant Musigasarn. "The most viable location for the Canal will be from 16km south of Songkhla on the east coast of southern Thailand, to 12km north of Satun, and 4km north of Taratao island's tip," said Weerapant, former dean of the Prince of Songkhla University's school of engineering. This route, closer to the border with Malaysia, was selected due to the geological character of the terrain. The narrowest feasible strip near Chumphon is mountainous with solid granite deposits, as opposed to the selected site, which is mostly flat land. However, other obstructions remain. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said that, for the time being, the Government had no plans to cut the Canal, but any feasibility study would contribute to the database for possible future use.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2012 18:43:18 ZULU