29 September 2009

Controversial Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project in Palk Strait Stops

16th September 2009, www.lbo.lk

Work on the controversial Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project in the Palk Strait between Sri Lanka and India has halted again after the last dredger digging the channel was pulled out of service, a media report said.

The project, about which Sri Lanka has expressed reservations, is meant to create a shorter shipping route between India's eastern and western coasts, India's Livemin business newspaper said.

Billed as India’s Suez Canal, the Sethusamudram project is expected to reduce ship journeys between India’s western and eastern coasts by as much as 30 hours or up to 424 nautical miles by creating a channel between the Indian mainland and Sri Lanka.

Ships now take a detour around Sri Lanka in the absence of a continuous navigational channel connecting the coasts, because of Adam’s Bridge, a network of reefs and shifting sandbanks south-east of Rameswaram near Pamban in Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lanka has expressed concern about the project on environmental grounds while shipping industry officials have said it might also help reduce transhipment traffic through Colombo as Indian harbours become more accessible.

The Sethu project involved boring a new shipping lane connecting the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal through the Palk Straits and Palk Bay.

Dredging work in the Adam’s Bridge region, the controversial part of the project, was stopped after India's Supreme Court ordered a halt in September 2007 on the basis of petitions filed against it on religious grounds.

Hindu groups say the project would destroy a rock and sand ridge built by the god Ram, as mentioned in the religious text Ramayana.

Livemint quoted Indian experts as saying stoppage of dredging will undo the work already done as silt will accumulate again.

State-run Dredging Corp. of India Ltd (DCI) removed its dredger—a specialized ship used to deepen the channels of ports and harbours—from the project when its four-year contract with Sethusamudram Corp. Ltd ended on 27 July.

"Nobody knows when the work will start again," the newspaper said.

"We are trying to revive the dredging contract between DCI and Sethusamudram Corp. Ltd," a shipping ministry official said, but he could not give a time frame for reviving the contract.

Meanwhile, dredging continued on the non-controversial Palk Straits area.

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