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Concept wise the government’s decision to allow foreign going vessels to handle coastal cargo is a good concept : Mr. P. Jeyanth Jason Thomas

(Interview Continued)

Sagar Sandesh: Did the port also lose some other captive cargo due to policy issues?

 
Tuticorin port

Mr. P. Jeyanth Jason Thomas:  At the same time, Tuticorin port also lost some cargo due to policy issues of the government. The Granite export to the far eastern countries was a flourishing business for the port and it used to handle nearly 200 TEUs of granite every month.
But the ban on extraction of granite by the Tamil Nadu government resulted in Madurai based PRP Granites to stop granite exports forthwith.
VV Minerals which used to export garnet sand and illuminate sand stopped the business following the ban clamped by the state government. The firm used to export 1500 TEUs rare varieties of sand per month.
With Vedanta’s Sterilite copper unit folding up its business a few months ago, the container terminals in the port lost business to tune of seven hundred TEUs a month. In sum total, the port lost about 2500 TEIS of business due to these policy issues.
SS: At the same time the Port also lost mainline vessel business and became a feeder port to Colombo…..
Mr. P. JJT: Ever since PSA- Sical container terminal was commissioned in 1999, it was attracting container cargo from Western Tamil Nadu in a big way. Volumes went up by four times within ten years of the terminal being commissioned. But no effort was taken to deepen the berths at the terminal. The mainline services found the Container terminal at Tuticorin shallow to operate their big vessels.
The first Liner to withdraw its mainline services from the Tuticorin port was the Weekly service to the United States East Coast covering New York, Norfolk and Charleston. The service was operated by a consortium of Shipping Corporation of India, Contship and CMA CGM. The decision to skip Tuticorin port was taken in 2005.  Coir pith and textiles used to be exported directly to US Ports by this service.
The port lost about 3000 TEus per month due to the withdrawal of this service.
The next to go was the Round the World Service to Europe operating once a week from Tuticorin connecting major ports in Europe. The service demanded 12.5 meters draft while the terminal had 10.5 meters. The loss to the port was around 3000 TEUs a month.
In 2009, the port lost another direct service to China. The Operators of the service declared that it was not commercially viable to operate from Tuticorin Port. The service provided direct connectivity to Singapore, Port Klang and various Chinese ports. By end of 2009, Tuticorin Port became a full-fledged feeder port to Colombo.
The port now operates seven sailings in a week to Colombo and a weekly sailing to Jebel Ali. It has now become a full fledged feeder port.
SS: The Shipping Ministry has announced relaxation of Cabotage laws by permitting foreign going vessels to handle coastal cargo, fertilizers and empties. Will this move help the  port to revive main line services?
Mr. P. JJT: The move has no direct advantage to Tuticorin port. The impact of the concessions announced by the shipping ministry is not yet felt in the port. Concept wise the government’s decision to allow foreign going vessels to handle coastal cargo is a good concept. It is too early to make an assessment on how it would improve the prospects of Tuticorin port.
The advantage is that there will be more operators in the market with foreign going vessels joining in to handle coastal cargo. Foreign going vessels connecting various Indian ports including Tuticorin are possible in the long run.
SS:  Transshipment business is picking up in a big way in Indian ports. Krishnapatnam port has become a leader of transshipment business and is doing 2500 TEUs a month. Chennai port has also made a start. Tuticorin port being close to the international sea lanes, can it attract transshipment cargo?
Mr. P. JJT:  Geographically, Krishnapatnam port is placed in a advantageous position to connect with the Far East Ports while ships from Tuticorin port have to come around Sri Lanka to reach the ASEAN market.

Krishnapatnam port

The Andhra Pradesh private port has also got the advantage of draft and 6000 TEU vessels, mostly used in Intra Asia Service find it convenient to operate at  Krishnapatnam port.  If steps have been taken at the Tuticorin port to deepen the berths and increased the length at the right time, we would not have lost the main line services. The port could have emerged as a leader in transshipment operations way ahead of Krishnapatnam Port.
The main problem with the Tuticorin port is the lack of adequate draft to accommodate modern container vessels. The declared draft at the new container terminal is 13.1 meters while some berths at Colombo port have 18 meters draft. The average draft of berths in Colombo port is fifteen meters. The average size of the container vessels operating in US Europe and Africa circuit is that they could carry 10 to 14,000 TEUs.   If we have to attract such vessels from Colombo, we have to offer matching draft at our port.
The length of the terminals at the Tuticorin port also proves to be an obstacle in transshipment operations, The length of PSA SICAL Terminal is 370 meters while that of Dakshin Bharat Gateway Terminal is 345 meters. These lengths are not adequate for multiple vessel handling. You need longer berths for transshipment operations.
The present Tuticorin Port is not designed to offer such deep drafts. The only option is to expand the port by building Outer Harbor. The Outer Harbor was sanctioned in the Union budget in 2014 but was given up. The administration has now taken up Optimization of capacity in the Inner Harbor.
If only the port administration had planned the infrastructure way back in 2005, or even five years later, it would have been a thriving port in the country. We did not take correct decisions at the right time and therefore lost the momentum.

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