Time is rapidly running out for Haldia Port, the lifeline to a huge hinterland covering several eastern states, thanks to massive silting. Another 40 cm of silt, and the port would have to be shut to all ocean-going ships, taking in only barges.
A Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) document available with HT records the draft at Lower Auckland (upper part) channel on Tuesday at 3.9 meters. “If it comes down to 3.5 meters no ship will be able to enter Haldia Port,” RK Burman, general secretary, Haldia Dock Officers’ Forum, said. At current rates of siltation, the port would need only a few days to sport a ‘No Entry’ board for ships, a senior officer said.
“At drafts of 3.5 meters or less, no ship — neither handymax (20,000 to 55,000 tonnes capacity) or the larger panamax (55,000-75,000 tonnes) can be handled,” Burman confirmed.
KoPT Chairman Anup Kumar Chanda, who is also executive head of Haldia Port, said from Delhi, “I haven’t yet been informed of the 3.9 metres draft.” Capt A.K. Bagchi, head, directorate of marine department, too, was in denial mode: “We are not taking cognisance of that 3.9 metre data,” he told HT.
Interestingly, it is Bagchi’s department that issues data on navigation status.
Despite the port officials’ ostrich act, users of the facilities are clearly apprehensive: SAIL has reportedly issued tenders for appointing barge services to bring in coking coal. It needs 6 million tonnes of coal in 2008-09.
Officials revealed that with every lost centimetre of draft, the carrying capacity of cargo would go down by 150 tonnes
for the panamax class of ships and 70 tonnes for handymax.
Chanda has tried to trumpet a quarterly growth rate of 1.92 per cent (April-July 2008) to prove that Haldia faces no crisis.
But the fact is that this it is the lowest growth rate among the nation’s nine major ports. Officials say ships are being diverted to neighbouring ports for partial unloading so that they can enter Haldia.
In 2007-08 Haldia handled 43.54 million tones of cargo.
Since commissioning, Haldia Port has depended on continuous dredging for survival. According to an agreement with the Dredging Corporation of India, dredgers 5, 6, 8, 12 and any two of 15, 16 and 17 are supposed to be in operation at Haldia. But currently, only dredgers 15 and 12 are at work; 16 and 17, supposed to be the most advanced dredgers, have been pressed into service in the Sethusamudram project. Dredger number 5 is 35 years old, and has been sent for repairs.
And the other two? “we have no idea where dredgers 6 and 8 are,” said Burman.
Solution? Withdraw dredgers 16 and 17 from Sethusamudram immediately. Because Haldia port is choking even as you read this piece.