KOCHI: Despite its huge potential, the shipment of cars through the Cochin Port, launched with much fanfare two-and- a-half years ago has died a slow death. A V Ramana, Cochin Port Trust(CPT) chairman, blamed a host of factors, including under-utilisation of slots for the vehicles in the ships coming to Kochi, issues related to last-mile connectivity and labour union problems, for the sad demise of this scheme. There was also the problem of not enough return cargo from Kochi, making shipment of cars to the port an unviable option for the car carriers.
The Roll-in Roll-off (Ro-Ro) services provided berths on a rental basis for car companies to ship cars to Kochi from their plants in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
When the vessel MV Dresden, carrying 500 vehicles arrived at Cochin Port in May 2016, it was heralded as a new beginning, eliminating thousands of trucks from the roads. Car handling is considered highly prestigious, and also eco-friendly as it reduces pollution on the roads. A container truck can typically carry seven-eight medium-sized cars, while a vessel like MV Dresden can ferry upto 4,300 cars in one shipment. Remember, Kerala has a big consumer base for passenger cars, selling about 1.5-1.8 lakh units per annum.
CPT had identified the Q7 berth at Ernakulam Wharf for handling the ship and a clean yard of 4,000 sq m at Q7 was allotted for storing cars until their delivery to dealers.
George Roshan, partner of Brother Shipping & Logistics, which was entrusted with the task of unloading cars at Cochin Port, said this was a high-potential business and Cochin Port should promote this in an aggressive manner. “Our nearest ports such as Tuticorin and Mangalore do not handle this business. The CPT owns large tracts of land in Willingdon Island. This can be given for parking the cars coming to the port,” he said.
Ramana said he is optimistic if the containers are modified in a certain manner, they can easily carry two cars along with other commodities. A ship with 500 containers on board, makes it 1,000 cars per trip. He also hoped the recent move to relax Cabotage rules will also revive the car shipment business.
Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers’ authorities claim they are working with the Centre to further the coastal shipping of cars. With relaxation in Cabotage law - which had prevented foreign-flagged vessels from engaging in coastal shipping- SIAM is hopeful the shipment of cars will soon pick up as ships returning after off-loading cars at ports like Cochin can now carry local cargo making the services more economically viable.
First car shipment at CPT - MV Dresden with 500 vehicles in May 2016
Car shipment will remove several thousand trucks from the road
About 1.5-1.8 lakh cars are sold in Kerala every year