India has extensive inland waterways in rivers, canals, backwaters, and creeks.
Freight transportation by waterways could be more utilized as compared to developed countries. India’s hinterland connectivity is mainly based on road and rail, with domestic waterways, both coastal shipping and inland waterways, playing a limited role. Worldwide, waterways are accepted as a cost-effective and environment-friendly mode of transporting freight. Still, in India, inland water transport is yet to exploit its vast potential to supplement over-burdened railways and congested roadways.
The exponential growth in the volume of cargo that is traded globally has added stress to the limited resources of land, water, and air transport. Most of the major ports and terminals are clogged with cargo traffic. The highways and railways networks that feed these ports and airports are congested to unreliability. Port connectivity issues like capacity, congestion, service reliability, cause cargo vessels to miss ETA and ETD. This results in underutilization of port/vessel capacities and avoidable demurrage.
The lack of infrastructure to handle the increased cargo traffic at the main ports compounds the matter further. Experts warn that unpredictable services, freight security, and missing schedules affect organizations and businesses needing to move cargo. Coastal shipping is one answer to these problems. A look at the coastlines of the leading trading nation can give us a better perspective of the potential for coastal shipping. North America’s coastline is about 60,000 km, while China has a coastline of 14,500 km and India’s 7,500 km.
Coasters (Coastal vessels) are small ships with shallow hulls. Depending upon the depth of the coastal waters and the marine life found in them, different nations and areas have separate load and draft restrictions set by the related government authorities. Coastal shipping feeds Exports and imports by moving cargo from smaller ports of the country to its major ones and vice versa. Of late, there have been relaxations by many countries on restrictions concerning foreign companies operating coastal shipping routes, engagement of crew on coastal vessels, and the like. The synergy between coastal services and the land transport system is crucial for developing coastal shipping. Local ports can provide facilities for receiving coastal vessels, so they must be developed and maintained.
The National Waterways Act 2016 has declared 111 inland waterways as National Waterways (NWs) in the country to promote shipping and navigation on them. The total length of NWs is over 20,000 km, spread over 24 states. Inland Waterways, Authority of India, constituted in Oct 1996, is primarily responsible for developing, maintaining and regulating these waterways. Inland waterways transport is an environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient mode of transport and helps reduce overall logistics costs, providing affordable transport solutions connecting the country’s vast hinterland. Inland & Coastal Shipping Ltd (ICSL), a Shipping Corporation of India Ltd.’s wholly owned subsidiary, was incorporated after Maritime Summit for undertaking/ providing transport services through Inland waterways, coastal shipping and end-to-end logistics. ICSL is in the process of liner services in NW1 (Haldia/ Kolkata to Varanasi). It also intends to connect inland waterways with coastal shipping. Govt of India is taking a series of initiatives in the matter, and more happenings are in the offing.
To make this subject a mainstream transportation and offload rail/ road sector and decongest major ports, there is a need to support this sector by providing complementary services and infrastructure such as road, road and rail transport, and labour. And keep pace with the development of coastal shipping. A few measures, e.g. relaxed cabotage norms, scheduled services and prompt services at ports, could go a long way in adopting this untapped mode of transportation and balancing the country’s logistics industry.
Sources: Author’s experience
Citation: This Insight may be cited as InfEneTy ‘Inland Waterways and Coastal Shipping (Doable Acts)’ 06.04.2023
Tags: Coastal economic, Coastal shipping, Cargo, Logistic, Transportation, Waterways
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