After a lacklustre phase, a glimmer of hope for the port now

Kollam port, constructed within the Tangasseri breakwater complex, may buzz with the activity it was supposed to when inaugurated in 2007. That is, if the reports that ships will soon start calling at the port, under the coastal shipping programme of the State government, hold any ground.

The port’s setting up on October 19, 2007, had brought fresh hopes that Kollam could finally regain its lost glory as a big seaport city. Immediately after it came up, there was sudden escalation in real prices in Kollam city and surrounding areas. Expectations were also high when it was formally announced that about 5 lakh tonnes of cargo would be handled from there annually. Kollam being the hub of country’s cashew industry, the port had every chance to make it big.

But the reality proved to be different. During the past five-and-a-half years, just two cargo ships and a few vessels of the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard called at the port.

The first cargo ship was Mv Anakuri and it arrived in June 2009 to carry a load of construction materials comprising sand and ballast to Maldives.

Cargo handling

The cargo handling on that occasion was inaugurated with much fanfare by the then Ports Minister M. Vijayakumar.

The second cargo ship, mv Karuthal, a multi purpose 1,600 DWT container vessel, arrived almost four years later in March this year but it was merely part of a trial-run call at various small ports of the State.

These ships calling at the Kollam port was the result of marathon efforts from the government side. Both the ships never showed any interest to return.

Glimmer of hope

There is a glimmer of hope now for the port, with reports that ships will soon start calling at the port. Ports Minister K. Babu had said last year that ships would start calling at the port under the programme from January this year.

Kollam Port Officer Captain Ashwin Pratap had hinted about the programme last year, saying steps were being taken to start container ship operations from the port in January 2013.

He said under the first phase, ships with a capacity to carry 150 containers would call at the port and that these would be primarily river-sea vessels. Annually, more than 25,000 containers with raw cashew would arrive at the Kollam port from the Kochi and Tuticorin ports under this programme, he said.

Yet, there was uncertainty about the announcement, port authorities, on the condition of anonymity, said.

According to them, the port lacked facilities to become part of such a programme. The “ahoy, a ship is in sight” announcement was going on since October 2007, but no vessels had arrived.

The state-of-affairs also triggered a fear whether the port, constructed at a cost of Rs.50 crore, was turning into a white elephant.

Shipping sector sources told The Hindu that a powerful lobby was working against the port becoming operational and that was the prime cause for the port to remain idle.

When asked about it, former minister and Kollam MLA P.K. Gurudasan, who took a lot initiative for the development of the port, said he would not dispute the fact that there was a strong lobby working against the development of the Kollam Port. There were also fears from various quarters on whether such a lobby had influence in the Ports Department of the State.

Regular announcements

This was in spite of the regular announcements from the government side that the port would be developed into a major one.

A New York-based professional service organisation, Deloitte, had been appointed as the consultant for the development of the port, and a public-private partnership policy for the development of the port and floating of global tenders for the purpose had also been announced. The government had also started the process of enabling passenger ships to operate from the port on grounds that the Minicoy Island offered tremendous scope in this connection.

The absence of a Customs office was initially cited as the first major hurdle for the port to become operational. This shortcoming was overcome in October 2008.

The sources said development work at the port was progressing, but at a snail’s pace in spite of the fund allocations. Even after six years, the port lacked proper road connectivity. Added to that, there was a puzzling local resistance to any development programme announced.

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