As container handling operations begin at the Vallarpadam terminal around noon on 18 February, G Krishnakumar, Deputy Chairman, Cochin Port Trust, pauses his interview with Shashidhar Nanjundaiah, and looks out the expansive windows of his officeâ€”overlooking the CPT-owned terminalâ€”for the understated but historic moment.
Congratulations on the Vallarpadam ICTT. When are the container operations formally beginning?
Container handling operations are commencing today: as you can see, the first lift is today. The capacity of the 600 m quay length is one million TEUs. The operator is likely to achieve this in the first or second full year of operations. The new terminal aims not only to shift transhipment of Indian containers from foreign ports like Colombo, Singapore and Dubai to Vallarpadam, but also to avoid transhipment. A container from Coimbatore to Europe first travels to Chennai, Cochin or Tuticorin, from where it ships to Colombo, from where a mother vessel takes it to Europe. Now with the new ICTT, that container can travel directly from Cochin to Europe, so you are saving on extra handling time and the cost involved in transhipment.
How much time and cost will shipping from ICTT save?
Shipping from here will save about $180 to $300 per boxâ€”including shipping and handlingâ€”and about a week in time. Of course, that is a rule of thumb, and depends on the cargo and on the waiting time at the current transhipment terminal.
Do you see development activities as enablers of opportunity?
The new terminal opens up opportunities for downstream containers handling activities like CFSs, ICDT cargo logistics, etc, and once fully developed this will be the single largest container handling terminal in the country. This is going to be a gamechanger in the container handling industry. On the one hand, it will galvanise local industries, on the other, the entire region, not only India, will be influenced because there is a backup area there are handling equipment, etc, and the terminal can easily handle five million TEU.
How are you gearing up to meet the challenge of being the largest container facility?
We are geared up in terms of infrastructure: there is a dedicated railway line, with provision for a second line when needed, and a highway leading to the terminal. The road leading to Vallarpadam is the first four lane original road in the state of Kerala. Two lanes have already been delivered. The Prime Minister has inaugurated three projects at once: the container terminal, rail and road connectivity. The connection from Kalamassery is a 17.2 km road across islands. Most of the portion in this consists of four lanes. And of course, infrastructure development will be an ongoing process.
Last year our container freight station (CFS) handled around 5,000 TEU, and we need to upgrade that to handle 25,000 TEU: we will be procuring container handling equipment like breach stackers, we are expanding the area as well. More CFSs are needed, and should be available in the hinterland. One CFS is already under construction, we'll be tendering for another two or three soon, say, in a month. Backup area is already provided by DP World.
The 400 m Panama flag OEL Dubai, arrived from Colombo on the day of inauguration of the Rs 3,500 crore (estimated at final phase) international container transhipment terminal (ICTT) of Cochin Port Trust at Vallarpadam. The first phase was formally inaugurated by Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, on 11 February. The terminal is licensed to Dubai Port World (DP World) for construction and operation on BOT basis for a period of 30 years. The total project envisages a key length of 1,800 m with a design capacity of three million TEU. The quay length of 605 m in Phase 1 (with six super-post panamax quay cranes and an on-dock railhead serviced by 15 rail mounted gantry crane) will be expanded to 905 in Phase 2 and the remainder in the last phaseâ€”by 2017, it is hoped. Hectic dredging has ensured that the draft in the terminal is set at 14.5 m, and is enough to handle the biggest vessels.