Cochin Port Joint Trade Union Forum has voiced concern over the declining cargo volumes at the International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT) in Vallarpadam at a time when other ports have registered a growth in cargo throughput.

The trade union forum pointed out that the number of containers handled at ICTT in FY23 was 6.95 lakh TEUS against 7.35 lakh in the previous fiscal. Despite recording an organic growth at 8-10 per cent continuously for the last several years, there has been a sharp decline of around 17 per cent this year, said CD Nandakumar, general convenor of the forum.

He alleged that the terminal operator DP World has failed to utilize the infrastructure facilities provided at huge investment from the public exchequer. Moreover, there is a reduction in the arrival of vessels that require 14.5 metre depth. The depth has been readied by the port, at an annual cost of ₹140 crore. Moreover, the port is providing around ₹60 crore per year concessions on vessel-related charges (VRC) to make the terminal competitive, he said.

According to Nandakumar, Shipping Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had replied in the Rajya Sabha, to a question raised by Member of Parliament Elamaram Kareem, that ₹577.23 crore was incurred by the Port Authority on account of vessel-related charges over the last 10 years.

‘Needless spend’

Now, the Shipping Ministry is going ahead with a proposed capital dredging in the ICTT berth basin, to increase the draft to 16 metres to accommodate large container ships. Labour organisations are preparing for an agitation against this huge spend at a time of serious financial crisis due to various factors, including the under-performance of the terminal, he said. 

DP World, when contacted, said, “ICTT World has been consistently partnering with Cochin Port Authority to strengthen its position as a leading transshipment hub for India and is delivering the highest level of service and productivity to its customers. With larger vessels, the requirements of a transshipment hub have drastically changed. A deeper draft, related infrastructure and competitive marine charges, as is being offered by competing transshipment ports, are needed.

“An increase in the draft by the port authority will result in India’s cargo being loaded on direct mainline vessels destined for global destinations, which will, in turn, enable better transits and efficient costs for our beneficial cargo owners, making Indian exports and imports more competitive. ICTT has grown by over 5 per cent CAGR in the last 5 years, which is higher than the south Indian average growth.”