Kolkata: The Kolkata Port Trust said on Wednesday that the depth of the main navigation channel of Haldia port had silted up by 0.3m in the past month to an “alarming level" of 3.7m, against the ideal depth of 5.5m.

In deep water: The Kolkata Port Trust, which controls facilities at Haldia and Kolkata (above), says dredging work is on. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint

Currently, the average draught at the port, which is the depth of the river bed plus the water level during high tide, is 6.9m. Bulk carriers carrying only up to 12,000 tonnes of cargo can enter at this draught.

As many as 34 ships currently waiting to enter Haldia should be able to get in during high tide, but those that arrive 7-10 days later could be diverted, said A.K. Bagchi, director (marine) of the Kolkata Port Trust.

According to exporters and importers, ships that have already set sail for Haldia port expecting a better draught would have to be diverted, and this could have “substantial cost implications".

“The situation is beyond control," said Ramesh Agarwal, eastern region chairman of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, an exporters’ lobby group. “Though silting is a natural phenomenon, there are inefficiencies in the management. However, the port authorities are now trying to address the problem on a war footing," he added.

At least six dredgers of the Dredging Corp. of India Ltd are currently deepening Haldia port’s main navigation channel, said Majumdar, adding that the Kolkata Port Trust had secured a commitment from the Union shipping ministry that more dredgers would be deployed.

With silting the key problem with the Haldia and Kolkata ports, they are dependent on dredging for survival.

“You cannot fight with nature," said Rajeev Dube, deputy chairman of Haldia port.

Besides dredging Haldia port’s main navigation channel, port authorities are looking to open a new channel. While this could take a year, port authorities are trying to expedite this, according to Majumdar.

The Kolkata port is also congested and has stopped ships from entering it till 17 October. Shipping companies have said they are going to levy a $250 (Rs11,550) congestion surcharge on each container moving through Kolkata port, starting 15 October.

Majumdar said the port authorities were bending over backwards to clear the congestion, but refused to give a schedule for the resumption of normal traffic.