National waterway gets ready, but barges are in short supply

A barge equipped to transport ammonia in bulk, in Kochi.

A barge equipped to transport ammonia in bulk, in Kochi.   | Photo Credit: Spl

Experts spoke of the need to establish Kerala Maritime Board, which would provide a fillip to coastal shipping.

The hope of shifting transportation of hazardous and bulk cargo from narrow, congested roads to Kerala’s waterways might take time, though the Kollam-Kottapuram National Waterway III is due for formal inauguration in March.

This means the State’s roads would continue to be vulnerable to accidents involving tankers ferrying LPG, ammonia and other hazardous goods, the latest being an LPG tanker overturning and catching fire at Kannur on Tuesday. “NW III can be optimally used only if entrepreneurs deploy adequate number of barges to transport bulk cargo. Similarly, coastal shipping – an economical way of transporting bulk cargo in ships through the sea off Kerala coast — will get a fillip if entrepreneurs come forward to operate ships,” said Director of Ports Jacob Thomas.

The State and Central Governments are keen on substantially reducing the number of goods carriers on the State’s accident-prone highways. Though the State has offered incentives for transporting cargo through waterways, it is yet to evolve a plan to incentivise construction of barges and ships.

Mr Thomas called upon all public-sector undertakings to emulate FACT and a few other firms in transporting hazardous goods through waterways.

Maritime Board

Experts spoke of the need to establish Kerala Maritime Board, which would provide a fillip to coastal shipping. A proposal in this regard has been pending, though a draft Bill was readied in 2010 and presented in the State Assembly in 2011. “The oncoming Assembly session must accord priority to reduce road accidents and traffic snarls on highways. It would also catalyse development of Kerala’s minor ports,” said an expert.

A senior official of Inland Waterways Development Authority of India (IWAI) said industrial units and oil majors must optimally utilise NW III and Champakkara, Udyogamandal canals that are navigable. “An alarming number of tanker lorries ferry chemicals, acid, ammonia, LPG, etc., through Kochi’s congested roads. The State government and district administration must take the initiative in diverting the cargo through waterways in a phased manner.”

Around a dozen cargo terminals of IWAI are underutilised. “We assure stakeholders that all effort will be taken in overcoming possible obstacles in navigating through NW III. The waterway can be interlinked with coastal shipping in places like Kollam, Kochi etc., where sea meets the State’s inland waterways, the official said.

A success story

Since November 2013, Backwater Navigation Company has been operating a 200-tonne capacity barge equipped with six bullet tankers to ferry liquefied ammonia from Kochi port and FACT’s Udyogamandal Division to FACT’s Kochi Division at Ambalamugal. “A similar method can be adopted for moving other equally dangerous chemicals and oil through waterway. An accident involving ammonia bullet trucks will be much more devastating than those that ferry LPG,” said A M James, the firm’s CMD and general secretary of Kerala Maritime Organisation.

By adopting modern technology for bulk transport, we have brought down the transporting rate from Rs. 1,600/- per tonne in 2004 to just Rs 275 per tonne in 2014. Despite concerns raised by the Kerala High Court in 2011 following accidents involving fully loaded ammonia tankers, FACT continued to transport a huge bulk of its ammonia requirements through roads, he said.

Mr James said oil majors had plants at Champakkara Canal, beside NW III. Still, many do not have terminals to make use of the waterway.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 7:04:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/national-waterway-gets-ready-but-barges-are-in-short-supply/article5589594.ece

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