Ships to navigate channel up to Kolkata by night in 6 months

Night navigation between Sagar and the port of Kolkata is likely to start in the next six months, thanks to a tie-up between Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port (SMP), Kolkata and the Antwerp Port in Belgium.

A special software named Quester will be imported and customised to fix a route along the Hooghly in advance to be used by pilots who navigate ships between the sea and Kolkata. The port facility at Haldia, known as the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) has night navigation facilities.

“In the next two months, we hope to have night navigation facilities between Budge Budge and the Kolkata Dock System (KDS). The remaining stretch of the river will be completed in about six months. We had sent a team of five pilots from KDS to study the system in Antwerp. Another team of five will be visiting the Belgian port shortly. Experts from Antwerp also travelled to Kolkata and checked out the system here,” Vinit Kumar, outgoing chairman, SMP, Kolkata, said on Friday.

According to him, three developments will take place to allow night navigation. One of these is to create lit-up markers on shore for pilots to get their bearings. Secondly, buoys along the navigation channel will get lights. Finally, the software will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to suggest the best path, based as tidal movement, draft and the distance from shore. This information will be specific to a vessel and the time when the movement is being made. Pilots can access this on their laptops while navigating the ships.

“Once KDS is able to use both tides in a day, a lot of time will be saved. Even if a day is saved, it will result in cost reduction by at least $10,000 per ship. Once costs are reduced, the Kolkata port can expect more traffic. Now, a Kolkata-bound ship that arrives at the Sagar anchorage in the evening, has to wait throughout the night till sunrise the next morning for proceeding up river. Similarly, a ship that has completed work at KDS in the late afternoon has to wait till the next morning to leave. This delay costs money,” Kumar added.

Kumar, an Indian Railway Service of Electrical Engineers (IRSEE) cadre officer, will relinquish charge as SMP, Kolkata chairman on Saturday. His five year term has been a challenging one, given the slump during the pandemic period. However, it was under his charge that SMP, Kolkata handled record cargo of 64 million tonnes.

This was in during the 2019-20 fiscal. The next year was harsh. In 2021-22, SMP, Kolkata handled 61 million tonnes. In 2022-23, the port is expected to set a new record by handling over 65 million tonnes.

“In the first two quarters, we have already handled 30.4 million tonnes. The best is yet to come as fair weather has set in and SMP, Kolkata will tranship large amounts of cargo from the Sandheads and Sagar. The port had slipped to sixth place among Major Ports in the country. This year, it will get back to No 5. Our project to restore Paddle Steamer Bhopal (now renamed Bengal Paddle) has been a great success. Nothing of that sort has taken place anywhere else in India. We are also developing three jetties at Outram Ghat, Takhta Ghat and the Indenture Memorial for recreational purposes. This will cost nearly Rs 80 crore,” Kumar said.

He also highlighted plans to develop a commercial complex (through PPP) mode at Armenian Ghat on Kolkata’s historic Strand Road. For this, SMP, Kolkata has sought the Government of India’s permission to extend the lease period for space let out to developers. Under Phase-II of the Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu) lighting plan, a special screen (actually a net) is proposed to be created on the Bridge for people on the banks of the river to enjoy special shows.

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