The central government-owned VO Chidambaranar Port Trust (VOCPT), located in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district, will soon call for bids to convert one of its bulk cargo berths into a container terminal through the public-private partnership (PPP) route, its chairman T.K Ramachandran has said.
VOCPT, the fourth-largest container handler among the dozen state-owned ports, currently has two container terminals run separately by PSA SICAL Terminals Ltd and Dakshin Bharat Gateway Terminal Pvt Ltd, with the capacity to handle 1.2 million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). The two terminals are handling about 8,00,000 TEUs a year.
“We are in the process of tendering out Berth No 9 — a bulk cargo berth — into a container terminal, which will raise the port’s container handling capacity to more than 1.6 million TEUs,” Ramachandran said. “We are waiting for government clearances; once they approve, we will float the tender,” he said.
Between April 2019 and January 2020, VOCPT handled 670,000 TEUs against 614,000 TEUs a year ago, clocking growth of 8.4 per cent.
“Our container traffic is growing at a good pace and that augurs well for the port because container traffic is the future. So, we are concentrating a lot on containers,” he said.
To help the port ramp up container cargo, state-run Corporation of India Ltd (Concor) will launch a direct weekly service from February 18, linking Southern India’s largest inland container depot (ICD) located at Whitefield near Bengaluru with VOCPT.
Currently, all the container traffic originating from and destined for Bengaluru from VOCPT is moved by road.
“With the start of the rail service between Bangalore and VOCPT by Concor, what we are now looking at is expanding our hinterland zone to also include portions north of Tamil Nadu,” the port trust chairman said.
“The road tariff for EXIM containers from Bangalore to VOCPT and vice versa is costlier when compared to rail tariff on a door-to-door basis,” said Anup Dayanand Sadhu, Group General Manager, Concor.
“Despite its longer distance by rail from/to Bangalore, VOCPT is the ideal gateway to ship time-sensitive cargo compared to other South Indian ports. The advantage of the rail service is that the container gets directly inside the port and with an RFID scan, it gets onto the vessel,” says Sailendra Venkata Banda, logistics manager at Shahi Exports Pvt Ltd, India’s largest apparel manufacturer and exporter. Shahi Exports ships about 1,700 TEUs a year through VOCPT.
Swedish clothing retail company Hennes & Mauritz AB also uses VOCPT port for its supply chain needs.
A consortium of container lines will start a South East India-Europe Express (IEX) main line service next month connecting the port with North Europe. This will add to the mainline service run by Taiwan’s Wan Hai Lines Ltd connecting China.
Eyeing Colombo’s business
VOCPT is also expecting to hear from the Customs Department soon on allowing a direct port entry (DPE) facility for exporters, Ramachandran said.
It just takes a minor diversion to get mainline vessels into VOCPT given its strategic location close to the East-West international sea route.
“So, all vessels that touch Colombo can also touch VOCPT. Our aim is to make it a transhipment hub so that exporters and importers don’t have to send or receive goods through Colombo. Instead of that, they can send them directly through VOCPT. Currently, there are feeder vessels plying between VOCPT and Colombo and vice versa, which entails an additional cost of $60 (per TEU), which can be saved if goods are send directly through VOCPT,” Ramachandran stated.
The port has a draft of 14.2 metres and can accommodate large vessels. It is offering a 67 per cent concession in vessel-related charges to mainline vessels and has the lowest terminal handling charges among all south Indian ports and Colombo.
The shortest sailing time — under 20 hours — to the regional hub at Colombo is another attraction for the trade to ship their containers through VOCPT.