Kandla port maybe closed for months
India's busiest port of Kandla could take months to resume full operations after last week's devastating earthquake, although the port's chairman said some services were expected to start in a few days.
Shippers and traders said almost every building in Kandla was cracked and the main bridge connecting the town of Gandhidham to the port, as well as major roads in the area, had been damaged.
"Some operations could be started at the port in the next 10 to 15 days but full efficiency will not come before six months," Adrian Desouza, an official of inspection and testing company Geo Chem said from Kandla.
S Sivakumar, chief executive of the International Business Division of ITC Ltd said the port could start in a limited way on February 2 or 3 but the rest of the infrastructure had to be in place before full operations could resume.
"Semblance of activity can start but normalisation will take time," said Sivakumar, whose company has cargoes of soymeal, rice and sesame lying at Kandla port to be exported.
A K Joti, chairman of the Kandla Port Trust, said most of the jetties had been damaged by the earthquake but said dry cargo operations were expected to be up and running quickly.
"As far as dry cargo is concerned, we will be able to start (operations) in three to four days," Joti said.
Damage to jetties six to 10 was not that serious he added. "We will be able to restore services there in the next three to four days. Loading and unloading will start."
Scientists to conduct damage survey
Cargo jetties one to five were also damaged but Joti said a survey had to be conducted to find out how bad the problem was.
A port official said a team of scientists will prepare a report on the extent of damage and suggest remedial measures.
"There are all kinds of cracks, but we need to be sure which of them have caused a structural weakness," the official, who did not wish to be identified, said.
"Some areas may require load restrictions some might require rebuilding," he added.
Joti said a preliminary damage survey of the general cargo jetties was available but the picture would only become clear after the survey was completed in the next two to three days.
"As far as the oil jetty is concerned, it will take one week's time as we have to check up all the pipelines," he added.
Kandla has 15 jetties - seven for liquid and the rest for general cargo - and handles 17 per cent of the cargo passing through India's 12 largest ports.
Joti said a circular was issued on Tuesday declaring the port closed for operations from January 26 till February 2 as a force majeure. The port has seen no commercial activity since Friday's huge earthquake which killed at least 20,000 people.
Shortage of workers
He said a major problem was labour since most workers had fled after the quake although he expected them to start returning after electricity was restored.
Officials said port operations will begin in phases and repair work could also be hampered by lengthy government procedures of tendering before awarding any contract.
The port had thin attendance on Wednesday and the few who came to work ran out in fright twice after feeling mild aftershocks.
Joti said the electricity board hoped to restore operations on Thursday, adding a survey of the Kandla creek approach channel showed the shipping channel had not been affected.
He said there were no immediate estimates of the extent of the damage to the port and they were not asking for outside help. "We are not seeking any assistance from the central or the state governments. We will manage with our own resources."
Port handling relief
For the moment the port is engaged more in channeling relief for the general public rather than its own upkeep.
A port spokesman said operations have been hit by infrastructure problems. The port was providing berthing facilities for the naval, coast guards and other vessels which are bringing heavy equipment, medicines, rations and other relief material as priority.