Nod for dredging of estuary to open up more possibilities: officials

The State government sanction for a proposal for dredging the mouth of the Azhikkal estuary has brightened the scope of the development of the Azhikkal port here as an intermediate port, even as the existing condition of the port bars it from operating medium vessels as their navigation inside the channel is impossible because of the sandbars at its mouth and shallowness of some pockets.

Port Department sources said the proposal for dredging the mouth of the estuary had been sanctioned as part of the development of the Azhikkal port. Sandbars at the mouth and the shallowness in the turning circle in the channel were major hurdles that discouraged medium vessels from entering the port. Though tenders were invited for the dredging work many years back, it was delayed for various reasons. According to the sources, one of the reasons was the reluctance on the part of dredging companies to use big dredgers for this small work.

According to the officials, the Azhikkal port had an ideal basin for port development and the approach to the port was free from navigational hazards. Moreover, vessels could secure good anchorage off the mouth of the river.

At present, only a small vessel with just 8.5 feet draft, operated by vessel agents in Lakshadweep, was visiting the port. The Lakshadweep Association of Contractors and Vessel Owners had informed the port officials that the port would be a favourite destination of its vessels if dredging had been done to increase the depth of the ship channel and the mouth. Noting that the depth of the channel was below three metres in some pockets, association president P.P. Hassan, in a recent memorandum, had urged the Director of Ports to increase the depth of the channel to a minimum of 4.5 metres for the safe navigation of vessels. Mr. Hassan said more cargo operators from Lakshadweep were keen to take their vessels to Azhikkal as it was the nearest one and would help them save time and money.

Another major advantage of the Azhikkal port is the 256-metre wharf under construction, which ensures convenient berthing facility for vessels. No other intermediate port in the State had a wharf with that much length, said P.P. Farookh, shipping agent at the Azhikkal port. Increasing the depth of the basin to ensure a six-metre draft was the major requirement for the port's development, he said, adding that the hydrographic survey had shown that many places in the channel had up to eight-metre depth except at the mouth and in some pockets. The port's proximity to the railway line, National Highway and the inland water ways was also seen as a major advantage of the port. It was located in a less populated area, which had a large number of industrial units, especially wood-based industries.

Industries to benefit

“Somehow, the Azhikkal port does not receive the same attention that Vizhinjam, Beypore or Kollam ports do,” said North Malabar Chamber of Commerce (NMCC) president Maheshchandra Baliga. The development of the port would be beneficial to the plywood and textile industries in the region and for the export and import of agricultural produces and spices, he said. The NMCC also submitted a memorandum urging the authorities to speed up the deepening of the mouth and the channel for navigation of container carriers.

The vessel operators also said the port should have a stacker and a big crane for handling containers. The present mobile crane could not handle containers. There was also a proposal for giving a portion of the wharf for exclusive berthing of vessels from Lakshadweep. The Lakshadweep Administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the development of this port in 2002. But it did not materialise.

Azhikkal is seen to be having a great development potential as a major intermediate port and as a container hub in the State.

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