KOCHI: Though the Vizhinjam seaport project has been caught in a stalemate for over three months, the Kerala Maritime Board (KMB) is going ahead with its ambitious project to develop coastal shipping. KMB chairman N S Pillai and chief executive officer T P Salimkumar met Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) chairman and managing director Madhu S Nair on Monday to finalise the plan to build a new ship to facilitate transportation of containers from Vizhinjam to small ports in the state.
“The new ship will have the capacity to carry 80 to 100 twenty equivalent units (TEU) containers. The ship will have a speed of 10 knots and CSL has assured to build it in a cost-effective manner. The cost of the ship will be around Rs 35 crore. We had a detailed discussion with the Planning Board in the presence of Finance Minister K N Balagopal, and hope the government will sanction funds in the budget. The MoU will be signed soon and the ship will be delivered in two years,” said Salimkumar.
KMB chairman N S Pillai said container movement will be a big hurdle for the state once the Vizhinjam port becomes operational. “Though road widening works are progressing, transportation of containers from Vizhinjam by road will cause traffic congestion. So we have drawn up a plan to encourage coastal shipping. Facilities will be enhanced at Kollam, Azheekal, and Beypore ports. The decision to own a ship was taken to stimulate coastal shipping,” he said.
The KMB has plans to purchase a bigger cargo vessel with the capacity to carry 500 TEU containers in the next four years. “The Vizhinjam port has the potential to develop as a major port and we expect huge container traffic. After analysing growth in container traffic, we will consider operating a cargo ship service from Vizhinjam to Gujarat, covering Mangaluru, Goa and Mumbai. Later we may purchase another large vessel for cargo service to the east coast,” said Salimkumar.
Though the government had roped in a private operator in July 2021 to facilitate the transportation of containers from International Container Transhipment Terminal in Kochi to small ports, the service lasted only for eight months.
The cargo vessel Chowgule 8 stopped service due to operational difficulties posed by low draft at ports, lack of night service and delay in payment of incentive. The biggest challenge was the non-availability of return cargo. To compensate for the loss, the government provided Rs 14,000 per 20-ft container to the operator as an incentive.