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Rising dredging costs a drain on Port Trust coffers


The dredging that created the Willingdon Island and the channel to its harbour is now emptying the coffers of the Cochin Port Trust (CPT).

“What ails the Cochin Port Trust is the annual dredging cost. Dredging of the channel that would cost around 9 crore earlier now costs ten times that amount,” said P.M. Mohammed Haneef, working president of the Cochin Port Staff Association. He was speaking at a seminar on Saturday by the Mercantile Marine Department and the Cochin Port Trust on the past, present and future of the port.

The seminar was held as part of an event to install a restored anchor from the dredger Lord Willingdon outside the Merchant Navy Club, Willingdon Island. The installation was conceptualised and executed by artist Maraprabhu Ramachandran. Under the guidance of harbour engineer Robert Bristow, the dredger commenced operations in 1926 and created a channel through which the first ship sailed into the harbour in 1928. A decade later, the dredging had created most of the 3.2 sq km of land that constitutes Willingdon Island.

“The annual dredging cost is now 89 crore. It was brought down from close to ?100 crore a few years ago, which is much higher than other ports in India. Internationally, central governments fund dredging operations. If the Central government can maintain national highways, why not these waterways?” M. Beena, chairperson, Cochin Port Trust, told.The dredged material is now being deposited in the outer sea.

Suggestions were made at the seminar that the material could be used to create another island that could generate revenue for the Port Trust.

Mr. Haneef said that the establishment of the International Container Transshipment Terminal had increased dredging costs, which had in turn raised vessel-related charges and reduced the ability of the port to compete with others.

Though it had recently seen turbulent times and years of financial insecurity, the port had achieved a total volume 32.02 mmt in the 2018-19 financial year, which was a growth of 9.9% from the previous year, Ms. Beena said.

The crisis could not be dealt with unless the issue of rising dredging costs was resolved and permanent workers were hired instead of contract labour, both Mr. Haneef and C.D. Nandakumar, a leader of the Cochin Port Trust Employees’ Organisation, maintained.