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Monday, April 9, 2012

the troubles at Zero gate - Chennai Port struggles

Swaraj Dweep, Dahiatul Kalbi, Unicorn Dolphin, USS Halsey, USS Bunker Hill, Grande Fortuna, Kota Pekarang, TCI Surya, Zhen Hua 10, Gati Pride, Capte Norviega – some of the vessels that are berthed at Chennai port today [9th April 2012]  - everyday the Port handles closer to 2500 containers – some import and some export containers.  When goods are imported, all dutiable shipments must go through a customs clearance procedure, which can affect the transit time and delay your shipment.

Chennai Port, the third oldest port among the 12 major ports has completed 128 years of  service.  Its origin dates back to 1639 when sea shore trade was done.  The artificial harbour was built and the operations were started in 1881.The cargo operations were carried out on the northern pier, located on the northeastern side of Fort St. George in Chennai.  India’s Independence saw the port gathering development, momentum. The topography of the Port changed in 1964 when the Jawahar dock with capacity to berth 6 vessels to handle Dry Bulk cargoes such as Coal, Iron ore, Fertilizer and non hazardous liquid cargoes was carved out on the southern side.  In  1983, the port heralded the country’s first dedicated container terminal facility commissioned by the then prime minister Smt.Indira Gandhi. 

Despite all the history, delays and trouble are increasing – as you travel towards North Madras, you can see hundreds of containers trucks waiting and nudging their way slowly.  The Port has  two container terminals, one gate and limited infrastructure, and struggles to cope up with the increasing trade and movement.  DP World Chennai is the first container terminal, built at Chennai Port in 1983, South India’s largest gateway to container trade. The container terminal was privatized in 2001.  Chennai Container Terminal Pvt Ltd. [CCT] is managed under a 30 year Build-Operate-Transfer agreement set up with the Chennai Port Trust (ChPT) of the Government of India. The terminal is capable of handling fifth generation vessels up to 6,400 TEU.

Not necessarily arising out of flash strikes, Chennai port gets blocked and the backlog of containers swells.   There are unconfirmed reports that more than 8000 containers lay piled at the Port subsequent to back-to-back strikes which resulted in a pile up of containers. At the start of the month, some vessels were held back to clear the pending cargo.  

The Port works round the clock and claims that it has good modern facilities for container handling at competitive rates.  In respect of containers to and from ICDs, Port allows 30 free days.   Actually, no stuffing, storage activities into the container takes place inside the Port and there are 11 Container Freight Stations functioning outside the port limit but within the City limit to cater to the total stuffing requirement of export cargoes in containers.

Recently the arrest of a truck driver for wrong delivery of a consignment led to the strike that ended after a compromise and that led to nearly 1,200 containers being stranded at the Chennai port.  There are further reports of uncleared containers and trucks awaiting entry – the manual checking and poor road facilities compound the situation.  Installation of scanner for checking containers passing through the gate has been a long standing demand of all concerned. 

The ‘O’ gate is virtually flooded  all the time and there is no great road connectivity for vehicles coming out of the Port.  If the projected flyover corridor leading direct to a place [Maduravoyal] outside the city comes through, it would go a long way in easing the traffic enabling faster movement of the container, helping the trade in a big way.   The strikes caused total disarray and according to some traders, situation was saved by the timely intervention of Speaker D Jayakumar by opening gate 2A.

There was also a danger of gate ten being closed soon to pave way for Metro Rail work.  As the City and Port struggle to handle increasing loads, broad visioned planning with wider gates, better facilities, better roads and improved infrastructure are compulsorily required to ensure smoother operations.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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