KOCHI: The suspension of service by Chowgule 8, the cargo vessel operated by Round the Coast Pvt Ltd which was engaged in short sea courier shipping connecting Vallarpadam International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT) with small ports in the state, has triggered a row. The service was launched in July 2021 to transport containers from ICTT to minor ports like Beypore, Azheekkal and Kollam.
The office of Ports Minister Ahammed Devarkovil clarified that the ship has gone for drydocking and repair and will be returning within a month. However, sources with Round the Coast Pvt Ltd told TNIE that lack of support from exporters and the delay in receiving incentives from the government forced them to rework things. The government is providing an incentive of `26,000 per container as the ship is not getting return cargo.
“We spoke to the operators on Monday and they had assured to resume service after completing repair within a month. The incentive is being provided as the operator is incurring a huge loss because they are not getting return cargo. The government is taking steps to improve the infrastructure at minor ports to promote coastal shipping. The draft at Azheekkal port has to be increased. We have initiated steps to get environmental clearance. The draft at Kollam and Beypore ports has to be increased to 10m. We have prepared a DPR. The plan is to get the work completed under Sagarmala project,” said private secretary to ports minister P T Joy.
He said the Vizhinjam port will be commissioned by May 2023 which will help boost coastal shipping.
“There are challenges in operating ships to minor ports as the draft is low and there is lack of infrastructure. The ships have to wait for the tide and there is no night traffic. There is delay in receiving the incentive announced by the government. There is no mechanism to ensure timely payment of incentive. An amount of `90 lakh is due. The shipping service needs big investment and operational costs are high. The service was stopped on March 21 and we are reworking the strategy,” said an official with the service provider.
The government has paid the operator `1.6 crore as incentive in the past nine months and sought administrative nod to pay pending arrears of `45 lakh, said Beypore port officer Aswin Pratap. Admitting that there is lack of patronage from exporters he said Malabar region receives around 3,000 containers a month of which only 300 are transported by sea.