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Woes of Coastal Shipping Industry explained to the Government at the world shipping forum

Notwithstanding the propaganda blitz of the government of its intention to promote coastal shipping, the industry came out with a ship load of problems they face which has virtually crippled the coastal shipping operations in the country.

Industry leaders like Mr Ramesh of Sical Logistics and Capt. K P Rajagopal listed out their grievances to the panel led by Joint Secretary Shipping Rabindra Agarwal on the second day of the World Shipping Forum held on November 24.

The Ministry is yet to formulate a Standard Operating Procedure for Coastal shipping so that they will face no interference from the Customs and the department of Immigration like the domestic air passengers do not have any contact with these agencies in the Airport. There is one rule for the port and another for the airport they contended.

Cargo moving from west to east coast ports and vice versa need to do business at Colombo port as it has emerged as the transhipment hub of south Asia and hence were of the view that the customs should have no role in the unitized cargo where there are clear demarcation between Exim and domestic cargo.

Non availablity of return cargo is another major handicap which is coming in the way of viability of the shipping service. An operator pointed several attempts have been made to send car from Chennai port to ports in Gujarat through coastal shipping but they have not been successful in roping in the automobile industries in the north like Maruti to send the vehicles to Gujarat port for onward movement to markets in Southern India.

Another ship operator said it took them as many as three days for the Directorate of Shipping to give clearance for the operation even after getting No Objection Certificate from Indian National Ship Operators Association INSA. The clearance from DG shipping should be given in a matter of hours if they believed in the concept of ease of doing business promoted by the government the operator said.

Bunching of ships resulting in congestion in Haldia and Kolkata Ports forced them to wait for three days to secure berths which adds to the Cost of Operation. They have to compete with road and rail sector but this undue delay affected their bottom line. Priority berthing for coastal vessels announced with fanfare by the shipping ministry is only on paper in most of the major ports.

Addressing the problems Joint Secretary Shipping Rabindra Kumar Agarwal admitted ideally customs and immigration should have no role in handling of domestic cargo in the ports and assured them that he would take up the matter with the Central Board of Excise and Customs.

He admitted that the customs notification issued in this regard last year is not working on the ground. He also pointed out to the industry the problems of coastal security and national security forced the governmental agencies to intervene. He, however, expressed the confidence that the issue could be sorted out for the benefit of the industry and coastal trade.

On the congestion problems in Haldia and Kolkata Ports he said the ministry has set up a study group by the Indian Institute of Technology Chennai to study the locking system in Haldia port and come out with suggestions to improve the turnover of the Port. The government is awaiting the report of the study group and once the recommendations are received the government will initiate corrective action to end congestion.

He said the Ministry has also plannned to set up a Centre for Excellence at IIT Chennai to assist the Port sector.

There is also a move to sign a treaty among the member nations of Bay of Bengal Initiative of Multi sectoral technical and economic cooperation (BIMSTECH) to encourage coastal shipping among the member nations. The working group of BIMSTEC is meeting in Delhi on November 27 and the issue will be taken up there Mr Agarwal said. The member nations of this Group include besides India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal Bhutan and Myanmar.

On the question of non availability of return cargo for coastal shipping making the operations non viable the Joint Secretary said a move has been floated in the recent Conclave held by the ministry in Goa that the major ports should be paired and must undertake joint marketing operations. For instance to promote traffic in the automobile sector Chennai and Khandla ports should work together to generate additional traffic.

On the question of Dredging Mr Agarwal said it was noticed that three or four ports in the country required massive maintenance dredging on a regular basis at considerable costs. The ministry has entrusted the work of finding the best business model for maintenance dredging in major ports in the country to the Indian Ports Association (IPA) whether the task should be entirely given to the Dredging Corporation of India or a tender should be floated to select the Dredging contractor and whether the contract should be for a limited period of one year or for three years. All these issues will be taken up by the IPA which will submit a report to the Shipping Ministry shortly.

Master plans for each of the twelve major ports have been prepared by the ministry based on the traffic flow to these ports. As many as 140 expansion projects have been identified in these ports and 58 projects have taken off. It has been decided to enhance the cargo handling capacity of major ports to 2500 Million tons and the capacity to three billion tons in the next seven years.

Among the new port sites identified are a transhipment terminal at Enayam at the tip of the country close to major international shipping lanes, Outer harbour project for the Paradip port, Fourth Contaner Terminal at Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai and a Satellite Port at Wadawan in Maharashtra.

It has also been decided to set up a Port in North Coastal Karnataka near Belekari since most of the industrial activities in the state took place in its north eastern part of the state while the port at Mangalore was in southern Karnataka. Some environmental issues relating to Western Ghats need to be sorted out for this green field port project he said.


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