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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chennai Port dogged by infrastructure, delays and strikes

It has a rich history, vast potential and capacity to expand – but trouble frequents in many forms and the situation certainly does not sound ideal.   It is the Chennai Port -  the third oldest port among the 12 major ports which  has completed 128 years of  service.  Its origin dates back to 1639 when sea shore trade was done.  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. It houses Dr Ambedkar dock; Jawahar dock; Bharathi dock and more.

Bharathi dock provides handling facilities for containers as also iron ore.  The iron ore berth can cater even post Panamax ships as it has a draft up to 16.5 m. .  The port is well connected with railway net work.  South India’s largest gateway to container trade was privatized in 2001 and DP World commenced operations – it is a busy port by all accounts. 

Not long ago,  I had posted on the woes at Chennai Port with  container laden trucks queuing up for kilo meters for entry into the port. With only one gate called ‘O’ gate available,there  always is a serpentine queue of vehicles lined up for kilometers,  creating chaos and throwing traffic out of gear – not only for those vehicles involved with movement of cargo to the port but for all other road users as well.  Often Port Officials claim the situation to have improved but immediately as ever other report of clogging up also crops up.   Besides the infrastructure trouble, there is human angle as there are frequent strikes and snarls between various users of the Port.

At the start of this month [June 12] there was a flash strike by container lorry drivers  as Steamer Agents failed to explain why the numbers on the containers and documents were different. Export-Import activities came to a grinding halt at ChPT. To diffuse the situation, ChPT officials conducted a meeting with all stakeholders on Thursday and they directed the Central Industrial Security Forces (CISF) to stop verification of the number plate, which is a unique to each container, until the issue was sorted out.  Does that sound a solution at all ?

It was further vitiated as  Steamer Agents and Lorry Owners' Association representatives failed to turn up for the meeting and out of the seven seized containers, only one container-laden vehicle was released by the police after getting reply from a Steamer Agent.  The representatives of  Chennai Port Trust Trailer Lorry Driver Cleaner Anna Labours' Union,  felt that lorry drivers were being harassed as according to them, there was no link between the trucks and the confiscated containers.  It all began when CISF found  that the numbers on seven imported containers were different from those mentioned in the documents. To be on the safer side, CISF personnel seized the container-laden vehicles for investigation, while the lorry drivers were let off.

There were reports of  about 400 vehicles being stranded inside the port premises and about 1,500 containers for over 25 km on the stretch leading to Maduravoyal, TPP Road and Madhavaram junctions from the zero gate.  That affected Export and import activities alike and the trading community sure felt the burden of increased costs on the razor thin margin profits of some consignments. 

It was a pity that small operators are holding the Port to ransom.  Sure Security should always be one issue which should not be compromised on any count. 

Fresh – no,  actually the same old trouble is brewing as as a section of drivers and cleaners, owing allegiance to the Anna Labour Union, have given a strike notice. They have demanded improved facilities at the gate and inside the premises to ease congestion.  The strike would disrupt the movement of containers and would affect the export and import activities of the Port.   The strike threat has come at the time when  Union Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan is due to visit the ‘zero gate', to review a port connectivity project.   It is reported that ChPT officials made several attempts on Saturday to avert the strike, offering to hold talks on Tuesday. According to official sources, the representatives of Chennai Port Trust Trailer Lorry Driver Cleaner Anna Labour Union submitted, on May 1, a charter of demands that included sending back vehicles without Form 13, keeping all the leaves at the zero gate functional, increasing the window time for export containers, reactivating Tiruvottiyur parking yard, carrying out seal verification at all Container Freight Stations, posting more Customs officials at the zero gate and stopping issue of one-day passes.

Such activities would being disrepute to the  Port – as the spillage effect is not only on road and inside Port but even inside the sea.  The one above  is a Dinamalar photo of a ship  which was sighted at the Marina beach, somewhat closer to the Light house, stranded outside the Port for nearly a week, not able to berth inside.  What a loss would be for the cargo, the ship, other interests and sure such delays would impact their planned schedule of call at other ports and disrupt their agreed deadline for deliveries.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


  1. worst is the conditions ; so much of mafia and rowdyism - no infrastructural support or adminsitrative control - worsening - Gupta

  2. still strike continueing today ??

  3. still strike continueing today ??

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