Cargo ships are getting bigger to handle larger volumes from Asia, particularly China, to Europe and the US. The container ship CSCL Global is the new ‘monster at sea;’ over 100 mega ships with carrying capacity of around 15,000 boxes on board sail the oceans.

However, not one such vessel calls at Indian ports due to inadequate volumes and infrastructure – both at waterfront and onshore.

The average ship size handled at Indian ports is of a capacity of around 5,000 boxes. This is enough for now but as volumes increase multi-fold in future, ports need to be ready.

The smaller size vessels came to the market two decades ago and could become defunct over the next five years to make way for large vessels that will call at ports that have good infrastructure, industry sources said. Currently, cargo to US or UK are taken to transhipment ports such as Colombo, Singapore or Jebel Ali to be shipped to final destinations inlarge mother vessels.

This increases logistics cost by 10-20 per cent. Also, if there is a delay in containers reaching the Chennai port, there is a chance that the box will miss the connecting ship at the transhipment port.

Poor infrastructure

In 2013, the Mundra port handled the 14,000-TEU container ship MSC Valeria – the record still holds.

Indian ports cannot dream of handling vessels such as the CSCL Globe which is 1,312-ft long, 192-ft wide and 100-ft deep in the near future due to poor infrastructure, industry sources said.

Ports are enhancing their infrastructure to handle larger ships. Over the next 5-6 years, should the goals of the Maritime Agenda 2020 be realised, there should be at least “transshipment capable mega ports” , says Srinath Manda, Program Manager, Transportation & Logistics Practice, Frost & Sullivan. There is significant demand related to India’s own exports and imports, which is being fulfilled through medium sized or feeder vessels from Colombo and Singapore.

This may continue for the next few years until one or two major transhipment capacity ports are developed, he said. Nhava Sheva handles around 45 per cent of India’s container volume but does not have deep draft.

In the near term India will handle vessels with carrying capacities up to 9,000 TEUs, according to sources in Gujarat Pipavav Port Company (GPPL) of APM Terminals, Netherlands.

Sources in GPPL said that currently no Indian port has cranes with the outreach required to handle large ships.

India should develop a port that has the capability to challenge established regional hubs such as Dubai and Colombo for the title of preferred relay point in the region.

Skipping port

There should be an internal hub and spoke model that will allow smaller ports to feeder cargo to the hubs. This will also call for relaxation of Cabotage.

K Ravichandran, Senior Vice-President, ICRA Ltd, said that major ports handling containers have drafts of 10-14 m, which does not permit handling of vessels of over 15,000 TEUs. Due to lack of volumes, large mainline vessels skip Indian ports.

As a result, infrastructure has also not kept pace with trade requirements.