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Monday, December 31, 2001

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DCI: Dredging up problems

Santanu Sanyal

THE Vizag-based public sector Dredging Corporation of India (DCI) has a new chairman and managing director. Capt N. K. Gupta has taken over the reins of DCI at a time when the state-owned dredging company is beleaguered by several problems such as the not-so-satisfactory level of performance, the intense competition from the foreign dredging companies active in the Indian market, the recessionary conditions forcing most port trusts to go slow on major dredging, particularly capital dredging schemes, and last but not the least, the challenges posed by DCIs recent foray into international operations.

Right now, the bulk of DCIs operation comprises maintenance dredging in several major ports such as Haldia, Paradip, Vizag and Chennai on the east coast, and Kochi, New Mangalore, JNPT and Kandla on the west. It also dredges at JNPT for Bharat Petroleum Corporation. DCI dredges an estimated 60 million cubic metres annually, nearly one-third of which in the Hooghly for maintaining the navigability of the river for Haldia dock.

Although Haldia accounts for the bulk of DCIs revenue earnings, the companys role at the port leaves much to be desired, it is felt. The Centre provides a substantial amount every year as subsidy to the Kolkata Port Trust for maintenance dredging in the Hooghly. Since the subsidy amount goes to pay for DCI, the Government actually subsidises DCI through the KPT.

Several questions are being raised in this connection: Are right size dredgers with suitable drafts being deployed for the Hooghly work? Are the dredgers really in good condition? Is the dredged material is being transported properly to the dumping grounds?

Is it being checked whether the hopper doors are leaking and how much material is lost while travelling to the dumping grounds? Does the KPT have any monitoring system to assess such leakages and their probable impact on reshoaling? Are the improvements in depths as a sequel to dredging commensurate with the quantity dredged?

It may be recalled that due to ineffective dredging over a period, the depths in the Hooghly had dropped from 6.5 metre BCD to 4.8 metre BCD by 1996. In 1998-99, the Kolkata port authorities managed to have the depths improved from 4.6 metre BCD to 5.7 metre BCD by doing backlog maintenance dredging with the help of the Dutch dredging firm HAM. For some administrative reason, the dredging work by HAM was stopped by the port authorities before the expiry of the contract period. The job was entrusted to DCI in July 1999. Despite DCI working for more than a year now, the depth is around 4.9 metres BCD.

If Haldia dock is to function without navigability problems in the Hooghly, the depths at Jellingham, which is the governing bar, has to be maintained at a minimum of 5.5 metre BCD and at Auckland at 6 metre BCD, according to experts. To increase the navigable depth from 4.9 metre BCD to 5.5 metre BCD at Jellingham, suitable and effective dredgers need to be deployed to handle reshoaling and occasional morphological changes in the river.

The question that arises is: Are the dredgers currently being engaged by DCI in the Hooghly suitable for the job? DCI engages four dredgers at Hooghly, DR 5,DR 6,DR 12 and DR 14. Of these, the first two are very old, of 1974 and 1975 vintage respectively. These have outlived their economic life. In November 1998, when DCI was placing orders for two new dredgers, DR 16 and DR 17, the Kolkata port authorities had urged it to procure such dredgers as would be suitable for the Hooghly operation. After all, Haldia generates the bulk of income for DCI. Apparently, the appeal went unheeded. DR 16 is now in Taiwan.

DR 12 and DR 14, though relatively new, have, it is complained, the problem of leaky bottom doors. As a result, whatever material they dredge leaks into the channel itself.

DCI has a fleet of 12 dredgers, of which 10 are trailer suction and two cutter suction types. The deployment of the dredgers other than these four, it is felt, will be of no help as dredgers like DR 8,DR 9,DR 11,DR 15, DR 16 and DR 17 can take only two loads in a day at Jellingham due to their higher draft. Deploying these dredgers at other points in the river may not be of much help as the maintenance of depths at Jellingham, the governing bar, is crucial for maintenance of the navigability of the Hooghly river for Haldia.

Some time back, DCI acquired a German trailer suction dredger for operation in the Hooghly. The contract with the German firm is believed to have been terminated due to its alleged failure in dredging the contractual quantities. The dredger was, it is reported, sent for operation abroad but not with much success.

Yet ask any major port trust and it will say that it prefers DCI to any other private firm, particularly foreign ones. This is because, if experience is any guide, the appointment of private dredging firms, particularly foreign ones, invariably leads to controversies.

The controversy surrounding the appointment of HAM for Haldia operation a few years ago is a case in point. Last year, the Kochi port appointed an Indian private firm for undertaking maintenance dredging in the channel leading to the port but has now reverted to DCI. As the chairman of a major port trust observed, we know DCI is a non-performer and yet we would often be forced to choose DCI which being a state-owned company makes matters simple and easy for us because nobody will raise any question over deals with DCI.

Recently DCI entered into international operation but not everything in such operations, it is alleged, is hunky dory. The new CMD, it is hoped, will face the all these and various other issues with a new look and a fresh approach.

 
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