V.O. Chidambaranar Port, rated as one of the largest economic engines of Tamil Nadu and truly a gateway of growth for southern states in the country, continues to tread on the path laid down by the legendary leader and ‘Kappalottiya Thamizhan.’ Keeping in line with the name and fame earned over the years with its sustained growth on cargo handling, the VOC Port Trust management is now at a crucial juncture from where it is poised for a spectacular growth, given the increasing percentage of its captive cargoes like coal, garments, garnet sand, yarn items and machinery products.
In a free-wheeling interview with Sagar Sandesh, Mr. S. Natarajan, Chairman of VOC Port Trust, explained the past, present and future of the port in crystal clear terms.
Excerpts of the interview
Question: Tell us about the port, its history?
Answer: The proposal to construct a deep-sea harbour at Tuticorin was first thought of in 1914.The first proposal was by Sir Wolfe Lyster Barry and Partners to examine the prospects of development of the port. Though a few other proposals came and abandoned due to financial constraints during those days, it was in post-independence (1954), when the Government of India appointed Mr. Chatterjee to examine development of Tuticorin Port. After various developments over the next 10 years, in 1964 then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri inaugurated the construction work of the new port. In 1979, the erstwhile anchorage port and Tuticorin New Harbour were integrated and declared as a 10th Major Port of our country.
Q: What are the advantages the port has when compared to other ports in the region?
A: Besides strategically located very close to the East-West international sea-route with 12.8 metre draft, VOC Port is well connected by broad-gauge rail and road with all major cities and all ICDs. Even during the time of economic downturn, there is a continuous and steady flow of exports and imports through VOC Port due to its efficiency, vision and market orientation.
During the financial year 2012-13, the port has handled its highest ever volume of 28.26 Million Tonnes, which is about one per cent higher than the volume handled during the previous fiscal.
Q: Will the modernized VOC Port throw a direct challenge to Colombo Port, which has been rated as best trans-shipment port in the region?
A: We are a fast developing port located in the southern tip of India (close to Colombo) and investing more and more on modernizing the facility to take up all kinds of challenges in future. Once the proposed Outer Harbour facility finds its place by 2019,
VOC Port would surely throw a direct challenge.
Q: What are the cargoes that are being imported or exported via VOC Port?
A: Products like thermal coal, steaming (non-coking) coal (I.coal), copper concentrate, rock phosphate, logs, lime stones, LPG, naphtha, urea, potassium sulphate (mop, sop), palm oil, iron and steel materials, furnace oil and finished fertilizers are being regularly imported via VOC Port.
Likewise, ilmenite, garnet sand, sulphuric acid, stone dust, maize, stone aggregate, granite, phosphoric acid, salt, sugar (raw), sugar in bags, caustic soda lye, cement in bags, iron ore, furnace oil and machinery are being exported via our port to different countries.
Q: Will the Tamil Nadu Government’s proposal to develop ship building activity near VOC Port boost growth in the region?
A: The proposal to develop a shipyard near VOC Port would definitely help the region. It will attract more auxiliary companies to establish their operations in Tuticorin, which would ultimately help the port with export and imports.
In 2006, VOC Port did a study for setting up a ship yard inside the port premises. Though we cornered a space for the project, all those lands earmarked for the project were moved to other essential and important projects of the port one by one.
Q: What are the projects that are in the pipeline for development of VOC Port?
A: We have various projects for the development of the port. A few have already been awarded and a few are yet to be awarded.
A 1000 MW thermal power plant is under construction by Neyveli Thermal Power Limited, a joint venture of NLC & TNEB JV at a cost of Rs. 4,500 crores. So as to facilitate handling of coal, a captive berth ‘North Cargo Berth-I’ has been constructed at a cost of Rs. 49.50 crores under deposit terms with a capacity of 6.30 MTPA.
Facilities like shore unloaders and conveyor will be provided by the captive user M/s NTPL. Berth construction work has been completed and M/s NTPL has proposed to operationalise one 500 MW unit by December 2013 and the remaining 500 MW unit by June 2014.
Likewise, construction of North Cargo Berth-II at an estimated cost of Rs. 332.16 crores has also been awarded to M/s Tuticorin Coal Terminal Ltd. (an SPV of M/s ABG-LDA Bulk Handling Private Limited & Louis Dreyfus Armaters SAS France), who offered a gross revenue share of 52.17 per cent to the port. About 30 per cent of berth construction work has been completed and the facility is scheduled to be commissioned by June 2014.
Construction of North Cargo Berth-IV at an estimated cost of Rs. 355 crores has also been awarded to M/s. Transstroy – OJSC Consortium, Hyderabad, for handling thermal coal and copper concentrate. The gross revenue share that would be offered by the concessionaire will be 30%. The construction of the berth is expected to be completed by June, 2015.
Besides other projects, construction of shallow draught berth for handling cement at an estimated cost Rs. 85 crores has also been awarded. The facility would have a capacity of 2.67 MTPA. LOA was issued to M/s. Transstroy – OJSC Consortium in December 2012 and it would be offering a gross revenue share of 22 per cent to the port. The project is expected to be completed by June 2015.
Q: What are the plans the VOC Port has to have captive cargo for its sustained growth?
A: Everybody knows that several power projects are coming up in the vicinity of VOC Port and all their coal requirements are ostensibly have to be met through our port only. We forecast that the combined coal need for those power plants would be around 30 Million Tonnes by 2019-20 and our dedicated coal-handling facilities would deliver it.
Besides, VOC Port is a favourite destination for export of garments and machinery products and import of raw cashew. So, we have ample captive cargo to sustain our double-digit growth.
Q: Does the port have plans for capturing the ever-growing container market from the region?
A: We have ambitious plans to capture the containerized market, which is going to grow rapidly in the coming years. During the financial year 2012-13, the port has handled a throughput of 4, 75, 599 TEUs.
Since container traffic is likely to improve in the country as a whole and the capacity of the existing container terminal has reached a saturation point, V.O. Chidambaranar Port has proactively planned to convert Berth No.8 into a container terminal with an additional container handling capacity of 6 lakh TEUs. The project was awarded to M/s. Dakshin Bharat Gateway Terminals, Mumbai, at an estimated cost of Rs. 312.23 crores during September 2012. The terminal, which would be fully operational by June 2014, will have a quay length of 345.50 metres.