ACCORDING to the NEERI report, the annual operation and maintenance costs for a 12-metre-deep Sethusamudram canal will be Rs.15 crores, including Rs.5.5 crores for maintenance dredging.
George Gomez, Coordinator, Tamil Nadu Manual Workers' Union, Tuticorin, who has several decades of experience in the shipping industry, says the project cost will work out to Rs.3,000 crores. He says the project "will be a sick unit" as the money invested can never be recovered. "I don't think any container ship will use the canal," he says. Major container operators, deploying mother-vessels, will not use it. The difference in time between ships using the canal and those going round Sri Lanka will only be a few hours. Ships would not be able to cruise fast on the canal because they will have to be piloted, he argues. Not only mother-vessels but 80 per cent of the vessels going round Sri Lanka will not use the canal, Gomez says. Moreover, the canal would have to be dredged continuously.
It is the Gulf of Mannar that has protected the seashore in the region. "Our coast may be flooded if the canal is dug. Water may come inside the Tuticorin harbour," he says.
Top Tuticorin Port Trust (TPT) officials assert that the project will be a profit-earner and that it will have a cumulative surplus of Rs.3,138 crores, 25 years after it is opened to traffic. About 2,000 ships a year (six to nine a day) will use the canal and they will totally save Rs.107 crores in fuel. The time saved will vary between 25 hours and 40 hours, depending on where they come from. The time saved will be 25 hours if the ships ply at 12 knots an hour and the average saving in distance will be 300 nautical miles. "The revenue that the canal will earn in 2008 will be Rs.87.42 crores," a TPT official says. (If the work of excavating the canal begins in 2005, it may be opened to traffic in 2008). "It is definitely a viable project. Mother-ships will use the canal," he says. Any vessel with a draught of 10.7 metres can use the canal. Ships using the Tuticorin harbour have a draught of 10.7 metres. "Any vessel with a draught of 10.7 metres, a beam (breadth) of 33 metres, and up to 237 metres long can use the canal. In this, there is no need to bring in any definitions such as mother-vessels or feeder-vessels," he says. The canal project will make a profit although the canal will have to undergo periodical dredging. "In any activity, there will be operating costs and there will be a net surplus. We will have a net surplus," the official said.