Overseas contractors seek early completion of JNPT dredging project

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2018

But Tata Consulting Engineers says move ‘not advisable on financial and feasibility parameters’

A team of Belgian and Dutch dredging contractors hired to deepen the channel of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) to 15 metres from 14 metres has put in a request to India’s biggest state-owned container port to be allowed to complete the ₹1,966-crore contract a year earlier.

The dredging work — which started on September 1— is to be completed by March 2019, according to the tender.

In September 2017, a consortium of Jan De Nul N V and Royal Boskalis Westminster NV communicated to JNPT its intention to abide by the tender and complete the work by March 2019. However, in October, the dredging contractor submitted a revised schedule to complete the work by March 2018.

Tata Consulting Engineers, the independent engineer for the project, evaluated the early completion request and concluded that it was “not advisable on financial and feasibility parameters”, a JNPT official said.

The flip side of this u-turn is: the cash outflow from JNPT becomes faster; it will have to spend at least ₹1,000 crore one year in advance, which the port authority is not prepared for. The contractor is trying to justify early completion of work with incremental cargo accruing to the port. “That may not be a reality. It takes time to generate cargo, bigger ships don’t come automatically,” said a dredging industry official.

Secondly, the original schedule of March 2019 takes care of JNPT’s maintenance dredging for the year. “If the work is completed in March 2018, it will have to go for maintenance dredging of at least ₹100 crore in September-October 2018, entailing fresh spending, which is not foreseen,” the industry official said.

JNPT wants the contractor to “close the chapter” on completing the contract one year in advance and “stick to the original schedule” before it can issue the naval clearance request letter sought by the dredging contractors for deploying more dredgers in a bid to meet its compressed time-frame.

Marine life impact

That aside, deploying more dredgers “all of a sudden” to dredge the 35.5-km channel will entail consequences, according to experts.

“As a port, JNPT has to assure safe and easy access to deliver the cargo. If more dredgers are pressed into the shipping channel, it can obstruct the free flow of cargo and raise safety concerns. Rock dredging and blasting of the channel in the compressed period will impact marine life. Such work needs to be carried out by ensuring minimal impact on marine life. The port will be held responsible for any problem arising from all this,” a port industry executive said.

The port is also keen on the contractor closing the request on early completion of the contract to check any “mischief”, including legal actions in future.

The dredging industry consultant mentioned earlier reckons that the contractors request to advance the completion schedule was triggered by the port authority’s plan to use the dredged rock for reclamation work connected with construction of oil tank farms at nearby Mumbai Port Trust.

The dredged rock, as per the environment clearance for the project, has to be deposited or dumped at a 35-nautical miles distance (1 NM=1.852 km), while the new tank farms of Mumbai Port Trust are coming up at a 3-4 km distance from the dredging site. “The dredged rock is a very precious material. Mumbai Port Trust has submitted a proposal to utilise the dredged rock for reclamation work - a practice adopted in Dubai, Singapore and Japan - instead of dumping it in the sea. The contractor sought a change in the completion schedules - within the space of a month - when this issue was being discussed,” the consultant said.

“Reclamation is environment-friendly and will save huge money to the national exchequer. But, the contractor is reluctant to agree to this. Probably, that’s the reason why the contractor requested for advancing the scheduled completion date,” the consultant said, adding that the contractor “probably” thinks there is more margin in dumping the dredged materials at a longer distance that at a shorter distance.

Jan De Nul and Boskalis could not be reached for comments.

Published on November 08, 2017

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