Cochin Port Trust plans to be a crew change and transshipment services hub

With Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown having affected the business of Cochin Port Trust (CPT) severely, the authorities are planning to develop the port to a hub for crew change and other transshipment services like bunkering in the region. After the authorities gave permission for crew change at offport limits/anchorage of Cochin Port amid lockdown for the first time, more than 35 ships, including very large (VLOC), diverted to Kochi just for crew change compared to less numbers in other ports close to international shipping lanes, sources said.

The plan is to leverage the port’s anchorage to attract ships requiring services like crew change, supplies, bunkering and repairs, and to also to generate direct revenue from the anchorage. Sources said CPT hopes to compensate for the loss, around 35% of its total business of previous year, due to the pandemic by attracting additional revenue through exploring the anchorage opportunities.

“Cochin Port is situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean and it sees a good portion of world’s shipping pass by within a hundred-mile radius. Besides being a major tourist destination with high-class hospitality services, the city is well connected by rail, road and air. Also the presence of Southern Naval Command, Coast Guard, Cochin Shipyard, good hospitals, Cochin coast’s natural characteristic that it is not prone to tropical cyclones etc add to its worthiness to be an ideal hub. Moreover, the extended off-port limits of CPT have an area of 228 square nautical miles, which can accommodate the anchoring of more than 80 ships at a time. CPT is yet to schedule meetings of stakeholders to discuss the plan,” said a source.

The plan, which is in nascent stage, will be fulfilling longstanding call from seafarers and shipping companies to tap the potential of Cochin Port to be developed as the hub for crew change and ancillary services of ships like Singapore port, which is the leader and the busiest container transshipment hub in the world. They said the development of port will propel Cochin to develop other related industries and transform its outlook.

“Around 20 large ships have used the anchorage facility for disembarkation of 200-odd crew after the port gave permission for crew change for the first time. On Wednesday, five ships reached the anchorage and did crew change, which is the highest in a day. Most shipping companies were waiting for this to start and now many of them are lining up crew changes in Cochin, proving the preference for Cochin Port to ships sailing in international channels. Cochin’s geographical location is strategic within important sea routes to West leading to Suez Canal, Persian Gulf and Far through the Singapore Straits,” said Thomas.

Sebastian, International Transport Workers’ Federation inspector, Kochi, who had campaigned for the opening of anchorage for crew change.

Some of the seafarers said the process and procedures should get further streamlined. “Our experience as the first sign-off crew to be handled by PHO, customs and immigration authorities during the lockdown was pleasant, proficient and professional. If authorities can extend visa formalities and online-clearance of immigration (like Singapore), streamline agency cost, then ship owners and charterers will use Cochin for transshipment and replenishing provisions, stores and bunkering of vessels,” said Captain Rajnish Shah, who was the master of MV Tominy Destiny that did the first crew change at Cochin amid lockdown.