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A tale of two ports

Monday, 11 July 2016 | 10:00

At long last, after paddling aimlessly for over a decade, the authorities have finally cleared the proposal to set up a massive international container transhipment terminal at Kanniyakumari – a project they claim would simultaneously reduce the dependency on the existing facilities at Colombo and Singapore, even as it would help establish the country as a major player in global transhipment sector.

However, industry experts are not looking at the impact the proposed port would have on the established big players in the littoral neighbourhood. Instead, many are wondering about the cannibalising effect this would have on the other proposed project a few km away at Vizhinjam in Kerala, a port that the Adani Group is developing.

Those like J Krishnan, a former trustee of the Chennai Port Trust, have voiced their opinion against setting up ports at Enayam and Vizhinjam. Rather than complimenting one another, these will compete with each other, he said.

Even this does not convey the full picture. Industry insiders told Sunday Express these were not the only ports, as Thoothukudi on the East coast is a major port on the Tamil Nadu side while Vallarpadam container terminal in Kerala is yet another important facility. Thus, there are four important ports on a coastal stretch spanning less than 300 km.

According to South Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) secretary S Raghavan, four ports at such close proximity is not a feasible situation. When pointed out that Chennai, too, has three ports close to one another, Raghavan noted that the older port in the northern part of the city was a government-owned one and the Kamarajar Port in Ennore was built on Public Private Partnership model. The third one, further north, at Katpuli is a private facility. They all have different primary purposes.

As the existing major ports are in northern and southern ends of the State, a study commissioned by the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry recommended a greenfield port near Nagapattinam, which would benefit the districts in central Tamil Nadu. But this proposal has not moved forward. There are concerns expressed across the border, too. Minister for Ports ‘Kadannappally’ Ramachandran told Sunday Express that he would discuss the issue with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The minister said it was not usual to propose a project so close to another major port. But not all are wary of the move.

Among those who back the proposed port is P Sirivasavaradhan, the vice-chairman of the Confederation of Indian Industries, Madurai Zone, who says that having a port at Enayam is a welcome move. At present, only Thoothukudi Port has the necessary draft (depth) to accommodate mother ships – those massive container carriers that sail from continent to continent. This forces them to depend on feeder vessels, which is not always feasible. The Enayam Port could be particularly beneficial for the fireworks industry in Sivakasi – the industrial hub popularly known as ‘Little Japan’. The industry players here now rely on Mumbai Port to send the consignment abroad, as no other port has infrastructure to handle hazardous materials.

The proposal has found another backer in Rafique Ahmed, former president of the Federation of Indian Export Organisation. “Exporters will now have a choice. If there is congestion in one port, I can move my cargo to another. There will be a healthy competition instead of monopoly, and exporters will benefit,” he opined.

Vizhinjam International Seaport managing director and CEO A S Sureshbabu added that the Enayam port would not pose a challenge to them. “We are much ahead. We have completed all studies and got necessary clearances and have started the work,” he said.
Source: Indian Express

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