'Setu not profitable channel' -- navigators, marine managers
Expert committee claims ships will save time, not money "If these charges are taken into account the channel will not at all be a prof- itable proposi- tion. Besides it has its risks in navigating in shallow waters of 12 metres," said Capt Balakrishnan.
By KUMAR CHELLAPPAN
Chennai (Deccan Chronicle, 24 March 2008)
The Committee of Eminent Persons constituted by the government of India to go into various questions raised with respect to the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project (SSCP) has admitted, albeit indirectly, that it would not be profitable for international cargo liners to operate their ships in the channel.
The committee in its report, a copy of which is available with this newspaper, has claimed that a trip from Aden to Chennai through the SSCP would enable the ships to save 335 nautical miles. Though the ships would be able to save 19 hours if they use the SSCP, in real terms they will be saving only 17 hours, according to navigators and marine specialists. "They have to take into account the embarkation and disembarkation time for sailing through the SSCP. This needs at least two hours," said Captain Hariharan Balakrishnan, a veteran navigator.
Based on the findings of the committee, Capt Balakrishnan has worked out the expenses to be incurred by the ships for circumnavigating Sri Lanka and for sailing through SSCP. "A ship may save Rs 4,22,521 in its fuel bill if it uses the SSCP," said Captain Balakrishnan. But he pointed out that the SSCP authorities were silent on the tariff to be levied from the shippers and other operational expenses. "If these charges are taken into account the channel will not at all be a profitable proposition. Besides it has its risks in navigating in shallow waters of 12 metres," said Capt Balakrishnan.
The committee's observation that the number of vessels with 30,000 Dead Weight Tonnage (DWTtotal carrying capacity of a ship) were on the increase for the last 20 years has also drawn flak from navigators and shipping experts.
"This is complete nonsense. All ship owners prefer bulk carriers, oil tankers and big vessels of 75,000 DWT and above. With the increase in global trading, the shipping industry itself is facing a boom and big ships are the order of the day," said a senior shipping executive of the government of India.
The officer who did not want to be named said that the global trend is towards big ships with major carrying capacity.
Captain Neel. J. Nair, director, ABS Marine Services Pvt Ltd, marine managers with global network, said that only small ships operating in the Cochin-Chennai stretch may opt for the SSCP route. "It has to be economical like Suez or Panama Channels. We are saving 20,000 km by opting for the Panama Channel route. How can you compare SSCP with Panama and Suez," asked Capt Nair. He said unless and otherwise the SSCP management heavily subsidizes the route by slashing the user's tariff, no mariner worth his salt would opt for this route. Captain Balakrishnan added: "If the Sethusamudram Corporation subsidises vessel tariffs, then it will become a sick unit from the start, and the taxpayers’ money would have been wasted."