Saturday, September 6, 2008

Setu Project (SSCP) -- an exercise in futility (Pioneer, Sept. 7, 2008)

Setu Project (SSCP) -- an exercise in futility (Pioneer, Sept. 7, 2008)

This is supposed to be a navigation channel in mid-ocean.

Capt. Balakrishnan with considerable experience in the Indian Navy has established that this channel does not make nautical sense, that this is a nautical folly and a nautical disaster waiting to happen. Thanks to Capt. Balakrishnan for a lucid analysis and incisive presentation; it is clearly seen that the Setusamudram Corpn. will be an ab initio sick unit, be in the red to the tune of Rs. 500 crores per year in perpetuity and will be a burden on the tax-payers of India.

Why not simply scrap the Setu project and look for alternatives such as Marine Economic Zone to benefit the coastal people along 8500 kms. of Indian coastline and improve India's foreign exchange income from marine exports from a vast 200 kms. ocean zone from the Indian coast and look for effective rail-port-container coordination arrangements from Kochi port?

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

An exercise in futility

Broadsweep: Not only does the Sethusamudram project hurt religious sentiments, it also does not make economic and maritime sense. Swati Das reports on a study that emphasises the pointlessness of this controversial project

Much has been said about the distance and time the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP) would save for mariners once the 148-year-old dream is fulfilled. But Capt (Retd) H Balakrishnan of the Indian Navy, who specialises in underwater warfare, has done a series of studies, purely on the maritime point of view.

"Time is at hand to cease thinking about sending ships in harm's way, the SSCP's way," Capt Balakrishnan said in his analysis.

The Supreme Court instructed the Centre to find an alternative to the SSCP-proposed Alignment 6, to cut through Adam's Bridge or Ramar Sethu -- Alignment 4. An expert committee headed by Dr RK Pachauri, Nobel Prize-winning head of the UN climate change committee and director-general of the New Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), has been formed to study the alternative alignment between Dhanushkodi and Land's End on Rameswaram Island. This is 600 yards to the west of the start of Adam's Bridge.

Assuming that the length and depth of the canal is the same for Alignment 6 and 4, Capt Balakrishnan comes up with the following observations, which may be more or less same for all proposed alignments.

· Kolkata to Tuticorin, circumnavigating Sri Lanka, is 1,380 nautical miles (nm), while via SSCP new alignment is 1005nm. Voyage time circumnavigating Sri Lanka at 12 knots comes to 115 hours (h), while via the SSCP at 12 knots in open sea (75.08h) and 8 knots through SSCP (13h) is 88.08 h. And if the speed is slower through SSCP -- 6 knots -- the total voyage time becomes 92.38h. So the distance saved is 375 nm, and time saved is 26.92h while travelling at 8 knots, and 22.62h while travelling at 6 knots. With one hour each for pilot embarkation/ disembarkation the time saved would reduce by another two hours for each.

· For fuel costs as per IOC tariffs at Chennai (on March 1, 2008) taken at an average of 1 metric ton (MT) per hour of motoring, the heavy oil (HO) would be (Rs 27,313 + 4% VAT) Rs 28,405.5 per MT. High speed diesel (HSD) (Rs 27,384 +23.43% VAT) would be 33,800 per MT.

· Fuel consumption circumnavigating Sri Lanka (HO) is 115MT, while through SSCP at 8 knots is 75.08MT of HO and 14 MT of HSD. And at 6 knots the economics is 75.08 for HO and 18.3 for HSD.

· The voyage fuel cost for circumnavigating Sri Lanka (HO) comes to Rs 32,66,632.50. Fuel costs through SSCP at 8 knots come to Rs 26,05,884.94. Navigation at 6 knots will cost Rs 27,51,224. Hence, savings in fuel costs through SSCP while travelling at 8 knots is Rs 6,60,747.56 and at 6 knots is Rs 5,15,407.56.

· The 50 per cent of cost savings for 8 knots is Rs 3,30,373.78, and for 6 knots is Rs 2,57,703.78. The SSCP Committee of Eminent Persons states that a tariff rate at 50 per cent of savings has been proposed, in base case internal rate of return (IRR), such a situation has been avoided. Based on this, the tariff to be levied per ship works out to Rs 3.89 lakhs in the first year of operation of the SSCP.

"If 50% of the fuel costs savings were to be levied as tariff for using the SSCP, then evidently the SSCP will incur a loss in its first year of operation itself and continue through the remaining years of its existence. However, if tariff rates for using the SSCP were to be brought in line with that charged by the major ports in India, then the shipping companies will incur a loss. It is therefore safe to conclude that none of the proposed alignments will prove to be economical if 50 per cent of the savings in fuel costs were to be levied as tariff," noted Capt Balakrishnan.

On navigation safety under various climatic conditions, Capt Balakrishnan found that in the waters around Rameswaram, according to the Bay of Bengal Pilot, the wind is of a swirling nature, and at the same time, on account of the Venturi effect, because of geographical location, the wind velocity tends to be high. Even a depression near the Orissa coast can create wind speeds of 55 kmph, especially at Alignment 4 where land may have to be cut.

If the winds were to blow along the axis of the proposed channel, navigating would not be hampered. But, if the winds blow across the axis of the channel, the ships will drift away from their course. The larger the ships, the more rapid the drift. The only way to check this is with speed. But speed in shallow waters can make ships run aground. Deploying tugs to counter the drift will only increase the overall voyage time, fuel consumption and fuel cost.

All the proposed alignments of the SSCP pass through fishing grounds. The high density of fishing vessels in the Rameswaram-Kachatheevu Island axis is already worrying the Navy and Coast Guard. If nets coil around the propeller shaft of a ship, it warrants emergency procedures.

During wars too, the SSCP would be a sitting duck. The LTTE even specialises in mine warfare, Capt Balakrishnan reminds us.

The SSCP is an open channel unlike the Suez and Panama canals. For a 30,000 DWT bulk carrier, approaching within 10 nautical miles of land is not considered prudent navigation when on passage. Yet, in Alignment 4, the vessel approaches within 3.5 nautical miles of the Kodandaramaswami Temple.

"From the standpoint of navigational safety, the area of location of the SSCP is a cause for disquiet. Viewed against this backdrop, one is left wondering whether this shipping channel is meant to cater to the needs of shipping in its entirety or whether shipping is meant to cater to the needs of the channel," said Capt Balakrishnan.

The six alignments

· The Sir A Ramaswamy Mudaliyar Committee in 1956 contemplated a 26 feet draft land canal across Mandapam at a cost of Rs 1.8 crore, but the idea was not feasible.

· Shipping and Transport Secretary Nagendra Singh's committee in 1964 suggested a 30 feet draft (at a cost of Rs 37.46 crore) though Rameswaram, near Thangachimadam. But dredging and other activities were considered cumbersome.

· In 1981, Development Advisor (Ports) HR Lakshminarayan's committee, considering the concerns of pilgrims, suggested an alignment farther east cutting Dhanushkodi, west of Kodandaramamasamy Temple, across the narrow land strip.

· In 1994, M/s Pallavan Transport Consultancy Services Ltd (PTCS), a State undertaking, modified the Laxminarayan Committee alignment taking it further east into Dhanushkodi.

· In February 1997, Tuticorin Port Trust, as the nodal agency for the project, and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, in the initial environmental examination (IEE) of the project, recommended an alignment east of Kothandaramasamy temple to cause least damage to the biota and the environment.

· In 2000-06, the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project -- which was the sixth alignment -- was mooted. The alignment was more than 20 km from Shingle Island in the Gulf of Mannar near Dhanuskodi. It runs parallel to the Indo-Sri Lankan Medial Line. The total length of the channel is 167km. It is 12m deep and 300m wide at the bottom. It has two legs -- one in the north of Adam's Bridge where the average depth is only about 3 meters, and one in the Palk Strait, where the average depth is about 6 to 8m. In the Gulf of Mannar and other stretches in Palk Bay, the channel will utilise the natural depth already available. This project was inaugurated on July 2, 2005. Dredging began on December 11, 2006.

2005. Dredging began on December 11, 2006.

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