As a clear sign of iron ore trade picking up after the government waived export duty on the commodity, around 27 ships that would either load or unload ore at Haldia are stuck at sandheads.
Besides, a shortage of tug vessels that guide ships in and out of the berths has led to another 21 ships carrying crude,naphtha, and containers queuing up for berths. The director of marine department, Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) A K Bagchi, however, denied that the congestion of iron ore ships was due to shortage of tugs. "Around 10-12 of them are yet to file in their documents. The rest would be accomodated as soon as berths are available.It would take around 15 to 18 days to clear the iron ore vessels backlog.", he claimed. Haldia has 12 berths in all apart from three oil-jetties. As for the issue with tugs, the port has hired one tug locally and another was sent from the Kolkata docks as an emergency response. Haldia had 10 tugs and Kolkata had seven, the highest in any port in India.
"Nearly, 10-15 per cent of the tugs are usually always dysfunctional on account of breakdown maitenance.", Bagchi admitted. "Eleven ships have entered in the last 12 hours.This is much above the daily average of eight to ten vessels.", Bagchi said. The vessel congestion at the port is significant at a time when major ports across the world are losing traffic on account of the financial downturn.
Port officials, however, admitted that while some slag was anticipated in the container traffic from January-end onwards, the port was hoping to handle close to 57 million tons of cargo this fiscal, a flat performance vis-a-vis last year.
Of this, around 43 million ton would be handled at Haldia. Kolkata port has handled 2497 vessels so far this fiscal, as against 2368 vessels during the same period last financial year. A total of 3373 vessels were handled in 2007-08. Sixteen vessels worked at Haldia on average. handling handled 1.25 lakh tons of cargo today comprising naphtha, crude,coking and non-coking coal,steel,phosphoric acid, liquified petroleum gas(LPG) among others.