Mumbai/Bangalore: India has just 60 professionals to navigate dredgers, specialized ships used for deepening ports, even as harbours need their services to receive bigger vessels so that shipowners, exporters and importers can chase economies of scale and achieve lower costs.
According to government estimates, the industry needs at least 1,000 specialized staff to operate dredgers along the country’s coast in three-four years. The country needs at least 100 dredgers in five years to meet the growing demand.
Currently, about 30 dredgers are operating on the coast out of which only 17 are Indian, according to a senior government official.
A Royal Boskalis Westminster NV dredger. Of the 30 dredgers operating along India’s coast, only 17 are Indian
“India will need at least 1,000 masters for running dredgers. The country will need a similar number of engineers, which can be managed from other sources. But there is no solution in sight to overcome the shortage of dredger masters,” said M.M. Saggi, nautical adviser to the government of India and chief examiner of masters and mates.
A study by maritime consultancy firm Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd has indicated a 37% reduction in cost by using a vessel that can carry 10,000 twenty-foot containers than a ship with a 4,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit, or TEU, capacity. A TEU is the standard size of a cargo container and a common measure of capacity in the industry.
“Ports and shipping have traditionally been the growth engines of any country. With this kind of shortage of personnel and equipment, the country will never get to the level that is desirable,” said Rajesh Samson, associate director at research and consulting firm Ernst and Young.
“The shortage will also force India to depend on foreign dredging companies, which will result in increase in costs. In turn, this will make way for a series of controversies, that will hamper the pace of growth,” he said.
A port official, who did not want to be named, said the possibility of the foreign companies forming a cartel to dictate terms of channel deepening cannot be ruled out.
“Since India lacks equipment and talent in this sector, the country cannot afford to black out these foreign majors from India either,” he pointed out.
Royal Boskalis Westminster NV, Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contracting Co. NV, Jan De Nul NV and Dredging International NV are the leading international dredging companies.
The shortage can be mainly attributed to the fact that India’s biggest dredging firm, the state-owned Dredging Corp. of India Ltd, employs only 60 dredging professionals.
Although private firms such as Mercator Lines Ltd, Essar Shipping Ports and Logistics Ltd, Sical Logistics Ltd and Marg Ltd have entered the dredging business, there is a shortage of talent to man the dredgers.
“There is an acute shortage of dredging professionals,” said Bert Groothuizen, head of marketing at Dutch dredging firm Van Oord Dredging, during a recent visit to India.
A dredger requires about 40 people on board. In comparison, a ship requires a minimum of eight officers to meet the safe manning requirements.
“There is a need to develop training facilities to meet the growing manpower requirements of the dredging industry,” said A. Krishna Rao, a general manager at Dredging Corp. The Vizag-based firm is feeling the heat of this huge demand. Private firms are poaching its trained staff, offering them attractive salaries and perks to run newly acquired dredgers. About 15 employees have left the state dredger in the past one year.
“More people are likely to leave. When there is a demand, people will cross over,” said a company official who did not want to be named.
To prevent losing more workers, Dredging Corp.’s board recently approved a proposal to give an interim relief of 20% of basic pay to staff till increased pay on the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission is finalized, the same official said.
The company runs an in-house training centre, All India Dredging Cadre, where 60 people can be trained in a year. It takes 27 months to complete training dredging masters and chief engine officers. The centre needs to shorten the period for engineering graduates, the officer added.