Puducherry Port pivots to shipbuilding, repair of small vessels amid halted container services

Over the span of three to four months, Puducherry Port, with a cargo handling capacity of four lakh tonnes, managed eight runs, handling approximately 300 containers over seven trips.
Shipyard worker performing arc welding; two individuals working aboard a ship in Puducherry Port
Shipyard worker performing arc welding; two individuals working aboard a ship in Puducherry Port(Photo | SRIRAM R)

PUDUCHERRY: Puducherry Port is strategically repositioning itself as a centre for building, repairing and retrofitting small vessels, following a ten-month hiatus in container cargo feeder services between Chennai and Puducherry ports. Flagged off from Chennai on February 27, 2023, the cargo feeder services faced multiple setbacks.

Over the span of three to four months, Puducherry Port, with a cargo handling capacity of four lakh tonnes, managed eight runs, handling approximately 300 containers over seven trips. However, since last August, these services have been halted due to the sale and re-registration of M V Hope Seven -- a vessel that had begun operations in April 2023 -- with the Indian Register of Shipping.

The process has been mired in litigation, resulting in the Madras High Court arresting the vessel at Puducherry Port pending adjudication. Amid these challenges, a new development has surfaced with a dhow -- "thoni" in Tamil -- awaiting clearance to ship food products to the Kankesanthurai Port in Northern Sri Lanka. This vessel indicates increasing maritime activities and opportunities.

Meanwhile, the port has shifted its focus towards the construction, repair and retrofitting of small seafaring vessels, including tugs, barges, workboats, and tourist boats. The port has extended its facilities and established a slipway for hauling vessels, said Port Director Mohamad Mansoor.

The port officials said two companies have set up shipyards within the port premises. Since 2024, B&T Marine has built and delivered two semi-submarine tourist boats to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; another tourist boat is ready for delivery after trial testing, and one more is under construction. Additionally, Dynamic Engineers Ltd., repaired a liquid barge from Chennai and sent it back. An offshore support vessel for oil rig operations and a sea bird hopper barge are ready for delivery after repairs. The port is poised to promote cruise tourism, with approval from the government pending.

Under Sagarmala project, Puducherry Port is undergoing development as a minor port in three phases at an estimate of Rs 300 crore. In the first phase, costing Rs 75 crore, capital dredging to increase the harbour mouth and channel draft has been done, while constructing a barrier for drainage is pending. At Rs 60 crore, the second phase will enhance berthing facilities in the old port by constructing a new pier. The final phase, costing Rs 170.2 crore, will establish a container terminal and new port berthing facilities. These projects are expected to significantly boost Puducherry’s economy.

Port dormant for 18 years
In April 2023, M V Hope Seven began operations, marking the reactivation of Puducherry Port after an 18-year dormancy. This is following a 2017 memorandum of understanding between the Chennai Port Authority (CPA) and the Puducherry Port to divert cargo to Puducherry, alleviating congestion at Chennai Port. The agreement also included a revenue-sharing arrangement between the two ports.

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