Kolkata: In what could be a setback to West Bengal’s economy, the movement of bulk carriers at Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) was suspended on Monday because the draught of the port’s main navigation channel had fallen by at least one-third of a metre for want of dredging.
Draught of a port is its depth plus water level due to tide.
It isn’t clear how long it will take to restore the normal draught, but according to some HDC officials, it could be a month before ships with 20,000-25,000 tonne deadweight can call at the port.
Some 32 ships are waiting to enter the port, though not all are stranded, because of lack of draught, HDC said. But those who have chartered these ships could be paying up to $10,000 (Rs4.84 lakh) a day in demurrage. Some crude-laden vessels have been diverted to other ports such as Paradip in Orissa.
The port has not been closed, said Anindo Majumdar, acting chairman of Kolkata Port Trust, which manages HDC. “However, the situation is not very good... Draught has fallen by 0.3m, but it is a natural phenomenon, and we are trying to do the best we can.”
On Wednesday morning, four vessels entered the Haldia port, and three left, but these moved with much smaller load than what bulk carriers such as Supramax and Panamax normally carry to the Haldia port.
Ships that call at Haldia have a deadweight of 20,000-25,000 tonnes on an average, said Majumdar. “To enter the port now, ships are having to reduce their deadweight.”
Bulk carriers normally offload around 60% of their cargo at Paradip and Visakhapatnam ports to be able to enter the Haldia port. Now they are having to offload more.
The Haldia port’s main navigation channel’s draught routinely falls because of silting. The problem is unique to the port, and it is dependent on dredging for survival.
HDC claims the current draught is around 7.6m, inadequate for large ships laden to capacity to call at the port. On Monday, when movement of bulk carriers was suspended, the draught had fallen to 6.9m, according to HDC. “It could take at least a month for normal draught to be restored,” said Basab Ray Chaudhuri, HDC general manager, management and services.
Until lately, seven Dredging Corp. of India Ltd-owned dredgers were working at the port. One of them was moved to a port in southern India, and another developed technical problems after colliding with a ship on 30 August.
The damaged dredger has since been repaired, and another is being moved from Paradip. Two more could be moved to Haldia early next month, Majumdar said.
“The situation is grave,” said Mukul Roy, junior minister for shipping at the Centre. “The immediate solution is to dredge the channel, which we have to do on war footing.”
The main navigation channel of Haldia, called the Auckland channel, might have to be abandoned, said Ramakant Burman, administrative officer and secretary of the Haldia Dock Officers’ Forum.
“Viability of the Auckland channel is doubtful...dredging isn’t a long-term solution,” said Burman. “We have requested the shipping ministry to consider opening the Eden channel (a parallel channel), which isn’t currently navigable, but can have a draught of 9-10m if worked upon.”
Ports in eastern India face congestion between June and September because of a spurt in movement of iron ore. Ports in western India suspend movement of iron ore during the monsoons. Yet, cargo traffic at HDC between April and August declined 24% from 2008 to 14.18 million tonnes.
P. Manoj and Romita Datta contributed to this story.