The VO Chidambaram port (VOC) in Thoothukudi witnessed a drop in cargo traffic during 2018-19. Closure of the Sterlite copper smelter plant was one of the main reasons, as the company contributed to an annual volume of around 1.5 million tonnes (mt).
The major port in southern Tamil Nadu handled a cargo throughput of 34.34 mt in 2018-19 against 36.53 mt in 2017-18, a nearly 7 per cent drop. The target fixed by the Shipping Ministry for 2018-19 was 38 mt.
Fertiliser and container cargo saw positive growth, but petroleum, oil and lubricants, fertiliser raw material (rock phosphate and sulphur), thermal coals and ‘other’ cargo (in which copper products are included) saw a decline in 2018-19 against the previous year, according to sources.
In 2017-18, the port handled nearly 2 mt of wheat, but in 2018-19, the government had stopped wheat import. Sources said that this could possibly resume this year.
Container traffic was up 5.38 per cent to 7.39 lakh TEUs (twenty foot equivalent units). With the inauguration of the first mainline vessel to the Dakshin Bharat Gateway Container Terminal in December, the volume is likely to increase. Wan Hai Lines’ China-India Express 2 service connects the VOC port with two Malaysian ports — Penang and Port Klang — and Chinese ports — Hong Kong, Qingdao, Shanghai, Ningbo and Shekou.
The service is operated with six Panamax class container vessels with a carrying capacity of 4,333 TEUs, and calls VOC port every Tuesday. This year, the target is to handle around 40 mt, which the port is likely to achieve by way of organic growth and with increased volume of around 1 mt of coal and limestone for the Tamil Nadu Paper Ltd — this cargo was diverted from the Karaikal port in Puducherry. The port is also likely to handle around 1 mt of foodgrain this year, sources added.
After a lull of nearly two years, there is likely to be an uptake in the handling of construction materials for Maldives, which imports huge volume from the VOC port.
In 2016-17, around 1.80 mt of construction material was exported out of the VOC port to Maldives. However, this volume dropped sharply to 0.58 mt in 2017-18 and further to 0.27 mt in 2018-19. “It is a seasonal cargo, and we expect that, this year, construction materials will be in good demand in Maldives,” said sources.