<p>VO Chidambaranar Port Trust (VOC) in Tuticorin, one of the country’s major ports under the ministry of shipping, has ended the 2011-12 financial year by handling 28.10 million tonne, and has fixed an internal target to handle 30 million tonne in the current fiscal. In an interview, Port chairman A Subbiah shares with TE Narasimhan the port's plans, including implementing several projects to scale up the present capacity of 27.04 million tonne to 61.78 million tonne. Edited excerpts:
What are the expansion plans that the port is lining up?
We are implementing several projects to augment the present capacity to 61.78 million tonne. These include conversion of the eighth berth into a container terminal, construction of north cargo berth-I, development of north cargo berth-II, development of two shallow draft berths for handling construction material and cement, and upgradation of mechanical handling infrastructure. The port has proposed to implement the project on development of north cargo berth-III, north cargo berth-IV and development of barge jetty exclusively for anchorage cargoes.
On completion of these projects, the inner harbour optimisation would be complete. Thereafter, the port has plans to develop the outer harbour, which would feature eight berths. The capacity addition at the outer harbour would be around 44 million tonne, paving the way for the port to reach approximately 100 million tonne capacity by 2020.
Any progress on the port’s projects under the Maritime Agenda 2020 of the ministry of shipping?
According to the agenda, cargo traffic at the port is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10 per cent up to the 2020. As of now, the CAGR is 8.7 per cent for 2010-12. The agenda projects augmentation of the capacity of 75.12 million tonne by 2019-20. It is felt that the projections of the Maritime Agenda 2010-20 are realistic and will be implemented as planned.
The ‘hub port’ status for the port has been pending for a long time...
The hub port refers to a port wherein the port receives international transshipment cargo other than the cargo for the country in a hub-and-spoke model. The Tuticorin chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industry, south zone, the All India Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tuticorin, and other trade and industrial development bodies have been demanding a hub port status for VOC.
In order to receive the international transshipment cargo, it is imperative that the port should be in a strategic location with good infrastructure facilities at the waterfront and land area, have state-of-the-art cargo handling equipment and offer the best services in terms of productivity and efficiency. In order to get the hub port status, the port has completed the capital dredging project to improve the draft at the port to cater the vessels of 12.80 metre in the inner harbour. A modern ERP system is under implementation. The port has a vision for futuristic development of the outer harbour with a draft of 14.80 metre and connected infrastructure and superstructure. Upon completion of this projects, I observe that the port can desire and deserves the status of a hub port.
What kind of capital dredging projects were carried out?
The port always had a problem of draught and had a draft of 10.70 metre in the channel and some of the berths in the basin in the inner harbour. This was found inadequate for a growing port like us. Lack of draft was found to be one of the critical constraints for future development since the trend is towards bigger vessels to reap economies of scale. This important limiting factor was addressed by the capital dredging project with the support of the ministry of shipping with an outlay of Rs 538 crore.
The channel, the turning basin and the areas before berth-VIII, berth-IX, north cargo berth-I, coal jetty-I, coal jetty-II, oil jetty and part of berth-VII have been dredged to - 14.1-metre depth to cater to handling Panamax vessels of 12.80 draft. Due to this, the port has added 7.5 million tonne of additional capacity. The dredged material has been effectively dumped to reclaim a land mass of around 103 acre within the port area with the market value of Rs 400 crore, which would be effectively used for future developmental activities.
How is the container traffic picking up at the port?
VOC is the third-largest container handling port in the country having handled about 470,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) during the last fiscal. The port is all set to handle 500,000 TEUs this year. Since the container traffic is likely to improve in the country as a whole, we are proactively planned to convert the berth-VIII into a container terminal with an additional handling capacity of 600,000 TEUs. Upon completion of the project, the port will have a capacity to handle one million TEUs.
The port is also planning a dedicated container expressway, container truck parking terminal and CFS with an estimated cost of Rs 150 crore. It is also implementing an ERP e-sail project for ensuring paper-less flow through gate along with other components of the port’s activity. A six-lane new gate complex is also under tendering for ensuring smooth flow of cargo and containers.
Considering VOC to be one of the major ports for coal traffic, what are your plans?
Tuticorin district is poised to become a power hub in the state, and the country as per the indication of power plants with the total envisaged capacity of around 18,000 Mw, is likely to be setup in and around Tuticorin.
Apart from the existing 1,050-Mw power station of the Tangenco currently functioning in the port area, the 1,000-Mw NTPL power project is coming up. In addition to the above on the outskirts of Tuticorin, the projects of independent merchant power producers are coming up very fast. The two new projects require an additional quantity of about 20 million tonne of thermal coal, for which the construction of north cargo berth is in full swing. The north cargo Berth-II is under implementation. Upon commissioning of these projects, the port would be handling about 20 million tonne of thermal coal for the entire coal needs of the thermal power plant.
The developments in the inner harbour, development of Hare Island and the developments in the area reclaimed through dredging, planned rail connectivity for evacuation are some of the projects in the pipeline to meet the future demand of thermal coal for the various power stations coming up in the Tuticorin area.
Any plans to resume the Tuticorin-Colombo ferry service?
The passenger ferry service was launched by the operator between Tuticorin and Colombo in June, with the ship’s capacity of about 1,044 passengers. In spite of providing dedicated berthing facility and a full-fledged passenger terminal with all amenities by the port, the operator has not operated from November 2011 till date, citing technical reasons. To resume the service, the ministry of shipping and the port have formed an operational sub-committee to sort out the issues for early resumption of the ferry service.