Kochi port projects stalled by delayed Naval clearance

V. Sajeev Kumar | Updated on February 18, 2011

Height restrictions on account of the adjoining airstrip of the Indian Navy have held up the Kochi port's plans to install modern cranes and electrify its rail line.

Even as the Cochin Port Trust is building world-class terminals such as the ICTT at Vallarpadam and the LNG terminal, the bulk cargo handling facilities at the port remain inadequate.

The Port is, therefore, looking at various options to improve its cargo profile after the container terminal operations shift to Vallarpadam by February. The only way out is to modernise and streamline the bulk handling facilities to attract more bulk vessels, and electrify the existing railway lines to provide an effective means of cargo evacuation. The existing container berths at Rajiv Gandhi Container Terminal have deep draft and railway sidings, which are ideally suited to handling bulk cargo.


The success these ambitious projects depends to a great extent on early clearance from the Navy with respect to the height of the proposed installations. Height restrictions in the flying funnel area in Willingdon Island are likely to come in the way of the various developmental projects being taken up by the port management.

The restrictions in many parts of the Willingdon Island are in view of the two runways criss-crossing INS Venduruthy, the headquarters of the Southern Naval Command.

These affect stacking of containers, construction of buildings over more than one floor, modernisation of berths with new cranes and electrification of railway lines in the Cochin Harbour Terminus Station (CHTS). The Port Trust Chairman, Mr N. Ramachandran, told Business Line that for its continued sustenance, the Willingdon island part of the port would have to depend more on bulk cargoes, after shifting of container operations to Vallarpadam.

The need of the hour is to equip the bulk berths with modern cargo handling equipment and haulage infrastructure. That does not seem to be possible for want of permission from the Navy. “Flight safety regulations are sacrosanct and we do not want any compromise as far as safety norms are concerned. At the same time, a practical view needs to be taken in respect of some of these critical developmental requirements of the port, without endangering flight safety. The port's future is bleak, if we do not get the Naval clearance for our future developmental projects,” he said.

According to him, the port requires state-of-the-art cranes for handling bulk cargoes. The port is continuing with its bulk handling operations with 1,950 modelled cranes, which are unsafe and outdated. Besides, the electrification of the rail stretch in the Island area also awaits clearance from the Navy.

The procurement of most modern equipment and electrification of the railway line in the area are vital to improve bulk cargo handling. Without these improvements, a large number of importers would shun the Kochi port.

Mr Ramachandran said that there were large-scale requirements of fertilisers, coal, cement clinkers, salt and gypsum in the hinterland areas of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, which could be moved from Kochi once the port developed adequate facilities. “In the absence of modern cranes and electrified railway sidings, we are unable to provide the right comfort levels in efficiency and cost effectiveness that importers expect of a modern port,” he said. Naval officials said that the Indian Navy had already carried out modifications in its operating procedures to accommodate the nationally important ICTT project.

The unidirectional use of Navy airfields (that is, taking off and landing in the same direction), though not prudent or safe, has been necessitated by ICTT cranes.


The existing crane with a height of 74 metres has already reduced the landing cushion for fixed wing aircraft. Increasing the height of cranes would not only further impact Navy's ability to operate aircraft in its inventory, but also impact flight safety. The naval air station, INS Garuda, is the protector of the Kerala coast and exercises surveillance over our areas of interest in the Indian Ocean, including the Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands, especially due to increased incidents of piracy. According to officials, the permitted height of any obstruction close to the runway is 3.6 metres as per Air Traffic Management Circular regulations. The electrification of railway lines would mean a height of 6.4 metres, which cannot be permitted. “We have made adjustments to the extent feasible for growth of ICTT but the national requirements of maintaining the Navy's operational and training infrastructure also need to be kept in view,” the officials added.

Mr Suresh Joseph, former General Manager of DP World, Kochi, said that these height restrictions for cranes had hit the growth of the port and would affect future development projects. The installation of new cranes would ensure faster discharge of cargo at low operating costs. The restrictions of 45 metres should be relaxed to at least 90 metres to generate interest in development of the port, as it can perform well in handling bulk cargoes.

This is not the first port in the world where strategic establishments are in close proximity to centres of vital economic activity. Cases in point are Singapore and Hong Kong, he said.

Mr Joseph, who has served in the Indian Railways, said the growth of the Port was crucially dependent on the electrification of CHTS section. Delays in evacuation of even the meagre quantum of coal handled by the Port today was due to the absence of electrification.

He pointed out that the electrification of the Ernakulam-CHTS section was a part of the approved works of the Southern Railway. However, it was dropped following the Navy's objections. The electrification of the Shoranur-Ernakulam section of the Railways was a golden opportunity to providing an effective link to the main rail routes from Kochi. Objections to electrifying the route to CHTS have virtually spelt doom for the development of Willingdon Island, he added.

Published on January 30, 2011

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