Interviews

Connecting the waterworld

New Delhi, 26 November (G’nY News service): Rajive Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Shipping speaking with Editor, G’nY, highlighted the government’s initiatives in developing inland waterways and flagged the need for its integration with the coastal shipping for facilitating a vibrant transport system in the country.

G’nY. Is it possible to envisage any connectivity between inland waterways points and coastal ports for cargo shipments?

It is possible. Or at least, I would say, we envisage to make it possible in the next three years. In fact from Varanasi cargo can be sent to any place on the globe. There is a big terminal in progress in Varanasi and soon it will be a reality.

G’nY. Do you agree that ports are facing a lot of challenges in terms of capacity, insufficient clearances, etc. which require urgent attention?

As far as the ports are concerned, I think the entire sector is doing reasonably well. The private ports are growing at a relatively fast pace. A few ports have felt a dip essentially because of the court order on the iron ore mining. And also after the Beijing Olympics there has been a general dip. But last year and this year, we expect a fair amount of increase in the major ports’ cargo traffic. In terms of capacity, we did a record 71 MT in the major ports, that has been the highest ever. Private ports are doing exceptionally well and on an average our capacity utilisation is now about 70 per cent, which is the global average. Problem is that berths which were made for iron ore, are operating at very low capacity and at the same time we have a sudden impetus for importing coal. So, there are certain mismatches in ports. We recently hired a consultant firm who are looking at the major ports to benchmarking them and identifying the missing elements to make these ports at par with the better performing ones. They are also evaluating ways to enhance our capacity to match with some of the internationally vibrant ones.

G’nY. Which ports in your view are the best in the country now in terms of overall performance?

At the moment, the more efficient are the ones that are comparatively new and have no legacy issues. And they are all in the private sector. As far as the major ports are concerned, some are older than the cities itself and are plagued by their respective legacy issues. City ports like Vizag are often beleaguered by connectivity issues. From our perspective, ports that possess very ‘large potential’ are Kandla, Paradip, Ennore and Haldia. These are the ports that could boast of high capacity with a little attention.

G’nY. Has the sector been facing environmental issues and how has it dealt with them?

In the last one year, our experience with environmental issues has been rather positive. They were dealt with amicably. But when I think of environmental challenges, it would be big issue if we were to consider a major port along with channel deepening in Lakshwadeep—with the threat to the coral reef.

G’nY. What is the minimum draft needed for the ships to operate smoothly and efficiently?

It actually is subjective to a lot of factors. Mainly, it depends upon the type of cargo transported and the vessel used. For example, for bulk cargo, the deeper the draft the better it is. In countries like China, they utilise ships with three lakh tonnage capacities for iron ore that require almost 22-23 m draft. Normally, for a minimum of 16-17 m is sufficient for mid sized vessels to ply through.

Also, I would like to add, that there is a cost to dredging and that is also a determining factor to a large extent. It would thus be wiser to invest large sums on creating a new port that would yield more profit than spend it on maintaining the minimum draft of an existing one. Also, the geographical feasibility matters a lot. As a thumb rule for the draft—‘the deeper, the better’ but ultimately, it is a cost benefit issue.

G’nY. Are indigenous technologies developed by Indian organizations good enough for dredging?

The Dredging Corporation of India has been ably taking care of all our dredging needs as of now. But if you ask me whether we are building large dredgers, then unfortunately, that’s not true. For larger dredgers, we still have to import the technology.

G’nY. The shipping minister in a conference in the FICCI headquarters revealed about the government’s desire for LNG based vessels. Do we have such vessels as of yet?

Actually, these are the initial days for vessels to run on LNG. The advantage of LNG is that although you need special containers to store it, you can store a significant amount as it is in liquid form. This is a big advantage as it reduces the menace of having to carry huge loads of the fuel on a voyage. Also it is more environment friendly. LNG gives a much longer run for the same weight of fuel. Recently, Singapore has started facilities for bunkering LNG and I hope very soon the technology would catch up with the other parts of the world too.

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