Six firms, including a Swiss terminal operator, have responded to the call for Expressions of Interest for the ₹7,164-crore outer harbour project at the VO Chidambaranar port in Thoothukudi to be built on on design, build, finance, operate and transfer basis. . The Centre has revived the project, which was first announced in 2013, with a capacity to handle 4 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit) annually.

The firms that have evinced interest in the project are Terminal Investment ltd, Switzerland; International Seaport Dredging, Chennai; Megha Engineering & Infrastructures ltd, Telangana; Orissa Stevedores ltd, Odisha; Premium & JV partners, Branch UAE and Amma Lines Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, said officials.

Infrastructure planned

The VOC Port Authority plans to develop the outer harbour with two continuous quays of 1,000 m each. It has already entrusted the work to prepare the Detailed Project Report to the National Technology Centre for Ports, Waterways & Coasts, and in the process of appointing the transaction advisor. On receipt of the DPR, action will be initiated to submit the proposal for government approval, they said.

In 2013, the then Congress government announced in the Union Budget the development of the project at a cost of ₹7,500 crore. However, when the BJP came to power in 2014, the focus turned towards the development of a transshipment container terminal at Vizhinjam in Kerala and the possibility of exploring a similar transshipment port at Inayam in Kanyakumari — the latter did not take off, though.

The Centre has now revived the project that will include breakwater costing ₹1,020 crore; berths (₹760 crore); yard development and other shore facilities (₹580 crore); mechanisation (₹3,230 crore) and dredging (₹1,390 crore), the EoI document said.

Traffic growth

The container traffic at the VOC Port has increased to 7.81 lakh TEUs in 2020-21 from 6.92 lakh TEUs in 2018-19. The recent traffic forecast study done by consultants shows that the future traffic growth at the port will depend heavily on container traffic. This necessitates the development of an outer harbour.

The two existing container terminals — PSA Sical and Dakshin Bharat Gateway — can accommodate vessels up to 320 m in length with a draft restriction of 11.7 m. Berth 8 can accommodate vessels up to 310 m with a draught of 14.2 m. This can handle container ships of less than 5,000 TEUs.

However, with the size of the container ships increasing globally, there is a need to substantially increase the infrastructure to handle 22,000 TEU vessels which need a draught of around 20 m, said an industry source.