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Shifting sands would create problems for Sethusamudram Channel: Survey

By Vishaka Zadoo

Questions are being raised on the long-term viability of the government's Rs 2000-crore Sethusamudram Canal project.

This is because Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) like Suezmax, Panamax and Aframax would not be able to pass through the canal while the trend worldwide is to move towards a large-vessel regime.

A detailed project report has said that only vessels with capacity up to 30,000 Deadweight tonnage (Dwt), or mainly general purpose and mid-size ships, would be able to use the Sethusamudram canal.

The proposed canal is no patch on the Suez, which can accommodate vessels up to a maximum capacity of 150,000-200,000 Dwt. These vessels are also known as Suezmax. The Panama Canal, too, is a large vessel pass, accommodating ships with 80,000 Dwt.

Sethusamudram, which has been one of the pet projects of the UPA government, envisages providing a maritime shortcut through the Palk Strait between the east and west coasts of the Indian sub-continent.

Currently, ships have to travel around the Sri Lankan island. Even in medium size segment, Sethusamudram would allow passage to limited vessels. It would be beyond the reach of large vessels above 50,000 Dwt.

Whether the depth of the canal could be increased further is doubtful, as it would require more dredging. This may incur the wrath of environmentalists, who say that it may affect the marine life in the seabed.