Essar Ports, part of steel to oil refinery Essar Group, has scaled up its multi-port cargo handling capacity to over 100mt (million tonnes) by recently commissioning a 16mt fully mechanized all weather dry bulk terminal at Paradip Port on India’s east coast in Orissa. While the terminal, a maiden venture for Essar Ports on the east coast, is seen as forward linkage for the Group company Essar Steel, which is working on the second phase of a 12mt iron ore pellet plant in Paradip after bringing on stream the first unit, it will be open to use by third parties. A leading private sector port developer and operator, Essar Ports is now building a 14mt- capacity coal berth at Paradip.

India’s requirements of coal berth capacity are to rise steadily both for handling imported fuel and for moving domestically produced coal from mines to consumption centres across the country using ports. Coastal movement of dry bulk cargoes like coal and pellets has significant cost advantage over shipments by rail or road. India’s coal imports are set to rise over 28% to 127mt in the year to end March 2013 from 99mt in 2011/12, according to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. Imports rises are despite the step up in local coal production. India has targeted coal output of 578.10mt in the current year as against production of 540mt in 2011/12.

The new 16mt berth at Paradip will allow loading of 5,000

tonnes of cargoes an hour. The terminal with good road and rail connectivity and linked to the stockyard by a 9km-long conveyor system is designed to achieve a cargo handling rate which will compare with the best in the country and facilitate quick ship turnaround. Essar Ports now having total cargo handling capacity of 104mt, including 30mt at Hazira and 58mt at Vadinar, both on west coast in Gujarat, has projects in hand to raise capacity to 158mt in the next few years. The additional capacity is to be achieved by commissioning the coal terminal at Paradip, building a 20mt dry bulk cargo terminal at Salaya in Gujarat and creating an additional 20mt capacity at Hazira. Essar Ports managing director Rajiv Agarwal said beyond all this, the company “at this point is not looking for expansion into new ports in India or abroad. We have enough on our plate.” This, however, is unlikely to please the government.

The Indian Planning Commission says the country’s port capacity will have to nearly double to 2,301.63mt by 2016/17 to handle cargo traffic of 1,758.26mt. Last year India’s port capacity was 1,247.45mt and the total volume of cargoes handled was 971mt. Without private sector participating in a big way in building new deep sea water all season ports and also creating new berths in government owned ports, the capacity projected for 2016-17 will remain unachievable.

Kunal Bose