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Longest vessel sails on Brahmaputra with cargo fit for 3 trains: How it was done & why it matters

With a length of 90 metres and width of 26 metres, MV Ram Prasad Bismil Tuesday completed pilot delivery of cargo that included nearly 1,800 metric tonnes of steel rods.

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Guwahati: Carrying shipments that would fill up 150 trucks or three trains, the MV Ram Prasad Bismil has become the longest-ever vessel to sail on the Brahmaputra river.

With a length of 90 metres and width of 26 metres, the vessel Tuesday completed the pilot delivery of cargo that included nearly 1,800 metric tonnes (MT) of steel rods, from the Syama Prasad Mookerjee port in Kolkata’s Haldia dock to the Pandu Port in Assam’s Guwahati.

“The significance of this pilot run lays down the path for commencement of barging operation from Kolkata to Guwahati via Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route (IBPR),” a press release from the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways said. The IBPR connects the Ganga (National Waterways 1) and Brahmaputra (National Waterways 2) rivers.

“This is the first time that a vessel of this dimension has come from National Waterways 1 to National Waterways 2,” said A. Selvakumar, director of Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), in Guwahati, explaining the significance of the operation.

Union Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways Sarbananda Sonowal, former Assam CM who flagged off the vessel on 16 February this year, described the moment as “historic” in a tweet.

“This is not only the cheapest and ecologically most adept mode of transportation, it also allows the long awaited connect for the business of northeast through the marine network with the rest of the world,” Sonowal was quoted as saying in the press release.

An IWAI official, who didn’t wish to be named, however, told ThePrint that the vessel had been delayed. “It is a big vessel which is difficult to navigate at river bends. It was supposed to come on 6 March, but got stuck along the route after which further dredging was required,” the official said.

Also read: New Coast Guard ship honours teen patriot from Assam who died during Quit India Movement

A coordinated effort

The MV Ram Prasad Bismil comprises three parts — a tugboat with 13,000 horsepower, and two barges named Kalpana Chawla and APJ Abdul Kalam, that each carried nearly 900 MT of Tata Steel rods.

The ship when loaded had a draft — the distance between the waterline and the lowest point of the ship — of 2.1 metres, which necessitated dredging in several patches of the IBPR.

“The Government of India along with Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh funded the dredging of this stretch with 80:20 ratio for seamless navigation,” the press release mentioned.

Selvakumar said: “When this vessel was coming from Dhubri (Assam’s entry point) towards Pandu, we took all precautionary measures — like channel-marking and dredging in advance, so that it would not be grounded.”

Importance for northeast

When asked about the importance of this operation for the northeast, Selvakumar said: “If the same material the vessel carried would have been transported via road or rail, it would have been brought in by around 150 trucks or three trains.”

He added: “That capacity has moved through the waterway in a single time. That is more advantageous in terms of reducing congestion on roads as well as the railways.”

According to Selvakumar, expansion of the Assam-based Numalighar Refinery from 3 million metric tonnes per annum to 9 million metric tonnes per annum means that bigger cargo would have to be brought in, which “cannot be done via roads”.

He pointed out that if foodgrain was brought this way, there would be less chance of pilferage as the shipments come in sealed containers.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Indian Coast Guard Ship ‘Saksham’ dedicated to nation on Wednesday in Goa

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