In what could mark the start of intense competition among four container terminals located across three ports (Chennai, Kamarajar and Kattupalli) within a distance of 30 km near Chennai, container vessel Leonidio of the global shipping line Maersk berthed, for the first time, at the Adani Ennore Container Terminal (AECT) inside the Kamarajar port in Ennore on Saturday.

It also marks a complete shift in operations by Maersk – the world’s largest shipping line – to Ennore from Chennai where its container ships have been calling since 2003.

Shift in operations

“As global trade increases, so does the congestion at existing ports. There comes a point when moving to a new port becomes inevitable. Which is why we are shifting operations from Chennai to Ennore. And, we are doing it before anyone else,” said a communication from Maersk, which has a regular container service with adjacent Adani Katupalli container terminal.

The shift to Ennore was due to ‘congestion free port, faster turnaround time, pro-active updates , lower local transportation costs for Maersk customers, more reliable sailing schedules with its global network and seamless back up plans through tie-ups with inland container depots, ports and feeder operators, the shipping line said.

For the Adani group, which invested ₹800 crore last year to set up a container terminal at Kamarajar port, it was a not an easy ride as the port’s charges on shipping lines was far higher than those levied by Chennai port — with difference being as high as $23,000 (₹15.30 lakh) per call. As a result, shipping lines missed calling AECT, which can handle 1.4 million TEUs. The additional 40 per cent made AECT less attractive than Chennai’s two terminals.

Adani group had to approach the Shipping Ministry, seeking that level playing field. Efforts paid off with Kamarjar Port Ltd reducing its tariff to make it on par with Chennai port.

Maersk was the first global shipping line to start the terminal with a regular service connecting AECT with the Chinese port of Qingdao - thus connecting Chennai with Chinese ports in 14 days.

“AECT will be the gateway to Chennai,” said Ennarasu Karunesan, CEO - Southern Ports, Adani Ports & Special Economic Zone Ltd, at a trade meet last week to announce the launch of a new container ship call by Maersk at ACET, which has good connectivity by both road and rail. Nearly 60 per cent of the container freight stations in the Chennai cluster are in close proximity to Ennore, he said.