Port Series: Chabahar

Central Asia's Gateway in Iran

The development of Chabahar port will consolidate Iran’s ties with India, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.

Located in the southeast corner of Iran, Chabahar is the country’s only direct gateway to the Indian Ocean and an ideal location for the berthing of ocean-going vessels.

At a distance of 768 nautical miles from Mumbai, 364 miles from Dubai, and 151 miles from Muscat, Chabahar is more well-suited to becoming a regional maritime hub than any other Iranian port along the coasts of the Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

Iran will by no means be the only country to benefit from this deep-water port. Landlocked Central Asian nations such as Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan all count on the future of Chabahar and their amicable bilateral relations with Iran to secure themselves an access point to international waters—a win-win deal in which Iran will make profits and the Central Asian states will cut down on final shipping costs of their imports and exports significantly.

More than two years after the inking of preliminary pacts between Prime Minister Modi of India and Iran’s President Rouhani regarding the development of Chabahar port, the time has finally come for some action.
In 2018, Saurabh Kumar, India’s ambassador to Iran announced that Indian Ports Global Ltd (IPGL) will be the Indian company to participate in the development of the deep-water port and act as its operator in collaboration with the Iranian party.

So far, IPGL has procured over USD63 million worth of cranes and equipment to run the port, with plans for further investments in the offing. Moreover, the first shipments from India to Afghanistan via Chabahar have been carried out, inaugurating the route and demonstrating its viability.

In order to be part of an efficient route between the subcontinent, Afghanistan and CIS countries, however, Chabahar must be connected to Iran’s railway network; an enterprise which will cost well over USD1 billion and call for the construction of 500km of railway tracks between Chabahar and Zahedan alone. India has stretched out a helping hand for assisting Iran with this matter, too, as there are great profits to be made from a reliable trade route connecting the India to the heartland of Central Asia.

Iranian authorities have often spoken about the geopolitical importance of Chabahar and of national determination to develop the port. However, this determination is entering a new phase in 2018. Iran’s parliament is to consider granting the two main wharves of Chabahar free economic zone (FTZ) status, which will make the port a far more desirable place for investors due to tax exemptions and more easygoing customs protocols for the loading and unloading of cargoes.

Chabahar is also the preferred port of call for international oil tankers shipping Iran’s crude oil and processed petroleum products, as it saves them the trouble of navigating through the Strait of Hormuz.

As such, Iran has increased the capacity of Chabahar port’s oil terminal from 25,000 tons to 80,000 tons, according to the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran. At the same time, the 1,000km-long Goureh-Jask oil transport pipeline—currently under construction—is expected to facilitate the export of petroleum products from Chabahar.

All things considered, the development of Chabahar port is too good an opportunity to pass up: it will catalyze the economic growth of Iran’s comparatively underdeveloped southeast region; it will take the burden off the excessively busy Bandar Abbas port, which is not even a deep-water port; and it will improve Iran’s relations with its eastern neighbors.