Director-General (Shipping) Amitabh Kumar said that there is an imperative need to bring in foreign direct investments (FDI) into the maritime sector. He said that this could to give a boost to coastal shipping, as the cost of finance is high in the country. For this purpose, he added thatthe regulatory regime has to be relaxed.

In an interview here on Friday, he said the regulatory framework could be relaxed to facilitate 49 per cent FDI to stimulate coastal shipping, with 51 per cent remaining with the Indians and with it the ownership of the vessel. Further, overseas Indians should also be allowed to invest in the sector for the purpose and the vessels could be registered in the country.

He said the taxes should be reduced by the Union Finance Ministry to bring down costs. Availability of cargo was another major problem, and the ports should set up dedicated coastal cargo berths. Multi-modal logistics parks were coming up in the country to address some of these issues, he added.

“Logistics cost should be brought down substantially in India to make the industry competitive and for the purpose there should be greater investment in coastal shipping, in building up infrastructure for inland transport of cargo, and strengthening infrastructure. But the reverse is happening and there is greater investment in building up the road network and the railway network. There are several compulsions for it. But it is a major challenge," said Amitabh Kumar.

However, he said, the Union Shipping Ministry was aware of these challenges and taking up steps to address them.

Safety of vessels

Kumar said that accidents do happen in spite of all the precautions. “Still, compared to the roads and railways, shipping is safer and it is the regulated and the most insured,” he said.

With reference to the recent fire mishap on a vessel off Visakhapatnam coast, he said, “We are conducting an inquiry into the Vizag mishap. We have to ascertain the causes."

At the Global Maritime Seminar 2019, organised by the local chapter of the Institution of Marine Engineers of India, Kumar said that the Government of India had given a massive fillip to the sector by taking up the Sagarmala programme. The programme is aimed at improving road and rail connectivity to ports for speedy cargo evacuation, as well as modernisation, mechanisation and improvement of onshore infrastructure in ports.

He was the chief guest at the function.

He said that India should focus on four components to emerge as a major maritime power. They are: ports and harbours, merchant marine wing and ancillaries, exploitation of oceanic resources and maritime combat force to take care of security aspects. "India has taken care of the first and the last factors, but ignored the second and third aspects and the imbalance is being corrected now," he said.

Investments in maritime infrastructure

Rear-Admiral L V Sarat Babu, the CMD of the Hindustan Shipyard Limited, said, “The time has come for India, like China, to thing big and invest in maritime infrastructe across the world. We should go in for deep sea exploitation of marine resources and take up sea-bed mining. Like the USA, we must also explore the possibility of exploiting shale gas."

He said, “During the pre-historic times, India was a great maritime power but we cannot remain content with past glory. We should invest heavily in the sector and reclaim our status as a great maritime power. We have the resources - natural and human - to do that. Only will is required."

Visakhapatnam port Deputy Chairman P L Haranadh spoke about the various projects being taken at the port under Sagarmala and also other projects to strengthen infrastructure for speedy evacuation of cargo. He also spoke about the pollution control measures being taken up by the port.

Rajesh Tripathi, the CMD of the Dredging Corporation of India, spoke of the role of the DCI in port development and the need to bring down logistics cost.