With the global shipping fleet growing substantially in size and capacity, Indian ports are facing the challenge of handling larger vessels. Most of the ports in the country have low draughts, ranging between 9 and 12 metres. This suggests that significant capital and maintenance dredging activities are expected to take place at both major and non-major ports in the years to come.
With the deployment of larger vessels, the demand for deeper draughts at ports has increased. The government has directed all major ports to have a minimum depth of 18 metres. It has also launched a number of projects to improve capacity and operational efficiency at ports. One of the major initiatives launched by the government is the Sagarmala programme which involves dredging works of over 1 billion cubic metres.
Apart from ports, there is also growing demand for dredging across national waterways, dams and rivers. Recently, the government passed the National Waterways Bill, 2015 to develop 106 additional waterways across the country. A minimum depth of 3 metres will have to be maintained in each waterway. Since these contracts are likely to be based on depth guarantees, it is important for dredging companies to ascertain the volumes to be dredged to determine price bids.
Another major trend observed in the dredging industry is the growing concern about the environment. Dredging activities have adverse environmental consequences such as change in the shoreline, loss of fishing grounds, water contamination, etc. The biggest challenge is the disposal of large quantities of dredged material generated by capital and maintenance dredging. Typical dredge soil disposal guidelines require that spoil disposal grounds be defined, critical habitats avoided and dredged material be disposed of at above 20 metre water depths.
Key issues and challenges
The Indian dredging industry is facing a number of challenges. A major issue is the assessment of the quantity to be dredged. Providing navigability in shallow confined waters is also a major concern for port authorities. Another significant problem is the selection of appropriate dredgers. Further, in many cases, port authorities do not undertake a comprehensive social impact assessment for dredging projects which often results in local protests and disputes.
The way forward
Growing dredging requirements at ports and inland waterways and the increasing demand for beach nourishment and land reclamation will offer immense opportunities for dredging companies. As a result, there is an urgent need to estimate dredging requirements using numerical modelling. These estimates will help dredging companies in assessing the quantity and rate of siltation, which, in turn, will determine fleet size, capacities, dredging frequency, survey frequency and project cost. Further, while dredging inland waterways, it is important to assess the dredging requirements at channels and undertake navigation simulation to reduce the risks associated with the dredging process.
To meet the growing requirements, private dredging companies will have to play a bigger role. Finally, the structure of the industry, which presently comprises a number of domestic players with smaller-sized equipment suitable for minor dredging projects and a few large international players, will have to be consolidated. w
Based on presentations by Dr Rajat Roy Choudhury, Associate Director, BMT Consultants; and Zerich Dastur, Senior Partner, JSA Advocates & Solicitors