When the first passenger vessel — SS Jaladurga — entered the harbour of Visakhapatnam Port Trust (now Visakhapatnam Port Authority) on October 7, 1933, the founders and engineers, who built the harbour, could not have imagined that it would some day become one of the major ports in the country.
Back then, it was envisioned to handle an annual traffic of about 1.3 to 1.5 lakh tonnes of cargo with just one or two berths in the inner harbour. For the 2021-22 fiscal, the multiple-berth VPA handled close to 69 million tonnes of cargo. The projection for this year is over 72 million tonnes, says VPA chairman K. Rama Mohana Rao.
In the early part of the 20th century, the then British government had planned to use the natural facilities of Visakhapatnam to construct a harbour to connect the eastern coast to the hinterland in central India. Col. H. Cartwright Reid of British Admiralty was tasked with producing a feasibility report.
But the biggest challenge that emerged during construction was to stop the regular silting at the mouth of the harbour. Several experiments later, two ships — Janus and Wellesdon — were sunk at the harbour’s entrance to form break-water and the task of constructing the port and the harbour awarded to Bengal Nagpur Railway.
The first phase was taken up from 1927 and 1933, and the port, with just one berth, was inaugurated by the then Viceroy and Governor-General of India Lord Willingdon on December 19, 1933.
Given that the focus is on bulk cargo, VPA is now planning to diversify its cargo profile. “From the traditional coal, oil and other bulk cargoes, we are now focussing on handling food grains and preliminary talks are on with investors to build storage facilities with an investment of about ₹200-300 crore,” said Mr. Rama Mohana Rao.
This apart, the crude oil imports are also tipped to grow as Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) has expanded its capacity from 8 million tonnes to 15 million tonnes, and it is expected to grow further with its expansion project almost reaching operational stage.
To cut down dust pollution, the VPA is also planning covered storage sheds while mechanisation of a few berths in public-private partnership mode at a cost of about ₹288 crore is under way.
The infrastructure augmentation also includes revamping of railway yard, construction of covered sheds and repair of ORS and LPG jetties.
On the flip side, apart from catering to cargoes, construction for the proposed Cruise-cum-Coastal cargo terminal along with other infrastructure and amenities at Channel Berth area in Outer Harbour of VPA at an estimated cost of ₹96.05 crore is gaining pace.
Visakhapatnam Port was constructed with the idea of just importing and exporting manganese ore, groundnuts, rice and flour, but today, it has the capacity to handle all types of cargoes including iron ore, coal, crude oil, petroleum products, LPG, fertilizers, dry cargoes, liquid cargoes and containers.
Visakhapatnam was an ancient port city and trade by ships to countries such as Rome dates back to the 2nd century BC during the Buddhist period. Excavation of 2nd Century Buddhist sites such as Thotlakonda in Visakhapatnam has revealed the presence of Roman coins and artefacts.