Plans afoot for pvt. terminal at NMP

MANGALORE, SEPT. 2. The recent filing of expression of interest by two groups, MERSK Shipping (India) Limited in association with Ashok Leyland, and the Dubai Port Authority along with Bearys Infrastructure Development, for setting up of a private container terminal at the New Mangalore Port (NMP) will give an impetus to trade in the hinterland.

The authorities at the port in Mangalore, which has the best draft, making it possible to handle vessels of any size, have for some time now been furthering the cause of containerisation. Although several attempts made earlier failed for various reasons, hopes of handling containerised operations at the port got a fresh lease of life with the sailing in of MV Actuaria in early March.

Talking to The Hindu the port chairman, Captain R. Ramkumar, said that the port was considering private participation in accordance with the policy of the Ministry of Surface Transport. A study of the prospects of container handling at the port conducted by HOWE (India) suggested that there would be demand for containerised operations if a proper transport link could be established with the industrial heartland of Bangalore. Actual progress of containerisation has increased from a few boxes of cargo to a decent figure of 80-90 boxes for each voyage. There are now at least two voyages each month and the port intends to make one voyage every week possible, he said.

Financial constraints forced the port to consider other options to meet the projected traffic growth. At the recently-concluded third Maritime State Development Committee meeting it was concluded that it would not be possible to meet the traffic needs, which are expected to reach 424 million tonnes by the end of 2002, if privatisation in port handling and operations was not allowed, he said.

Explaining the proposal, Mr. Ramkumar said that Mangalore Port would allow the setting up of a private port facility in the land currently occupied by the Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL). The port has approximately 90 acres of vacant land, including the 69 acres of land which is currently leased to the MDL at the northern end. The 25-year lease will expire in 2003. However, Mr. Ramkumar said that talks were on with the authorities at the MDL for the speedy release of the land. As the MDL had already decided to wind up its facility at the yard, it was felt that the land would be available soon. There was enough area to accommodate eight berths and space for the warehouse, he said.

The parties who have expressed their interest in setting up the private port facility have been given two options: either to use the existing additional berth facility available at the port and invest only in the required machinery using port labour, or to develop a new terminal with an investment of Rs. 300 crores. The port has a provision to set aside up to Rs. 50 crores under the Ninth Plan scheme for the purpose.

Recently, a delegation led by Director (Technical) Dubai Port Authority (DPA), Mr. John Fewer, along with the Deputy Director (Commercial Division), Mr. Mohammed Sharaf, had talks with the authorities of the NMPT. They also inspected the proposed site on August 31 and September 1. The DPA, which has considerable experience in container handling, is planning to open operations in Mangalore as part of its expansion plans. The DPA has already set up similar terminals at Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Dijibouti and Beirut.

The DPA team later proceeded to Bangalore for holding talks with the Chief Minister, Mr. S.M.Krishna. Mr Krishna is also expected to pay a visit to the DPA facility at Dubai later this year.

Mr. Ramkumar stated that the move would be a great boost to the movement of general cargo at the port, which as of now has been considerably slow. The general cargo component in the total traffic handled accounts for only 10 per cent, but with the start of the private port facility a lot of transhipment cargo could also be expected along with the regular cargo. Both the proposals for setting up of the private facility are under active consideration, he added.

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