Cargo handling at major ports reach pre-COVID levels in 2021

The ascending external trade of the nation is bringing amelioration to the cargo handling activity at all government-owned major ports.

This fiscal year has witnessed cargo handling operations at major ports reach the pre COVID levels in its first half. While a handful of the lot (12 major ports) exhibited exceptional performance in cargo handling during April-September of 2021 than in the corresponding period of 2019, others are yet to pick up steam, notes Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Port (SMP), Calcutta (the erstwhile Calcutta Port Trust) which operates the twin dock system at Haldia and Calcutta.

As shown by the data collected by government agencies these ports in the period of April-September 2021 handled total traffic of 347 million tonnes (MT) as compared with 348.2 MT recorded during the same period of 2019, a marginal decline of 0.17 percent.

During the first half of 2020, the severe restriction due to the lethal first wave of the pandemic wreaks havoc upon the cargo movement of these major ports while the current fiscal witnessed that the traffic was much higher despite the lethal second wave hanging upon us.

Therefore, a 16.12 percent rise in traffic was observed over the first six months of 2020 when only 298.84 MT cargo was handled.

JNPT, Kandla, Mormugao, Ennore, and Paradip recorded cargo traffic growth rates ranging between 0.55 percent to 10.93 percent while CPT, Chennai, Vizag, and Mumbai saw a decline.

Among the 12 major ports, the Calcutta Port was the only one to fare the worst in the first half of 2021 as it witnessed the severe loss of major customers and the subdued trading activity in coal, and disruption in the container business.
However, there is still hope for the port to reach the pre-covid levels as the top officials at CPT, exude their confidence in the twin dock system to close the gap in the second half and attain the levels seen in 2019.

“We always do better in the second half because we can take advantage of the fair weather in winter when large ships come calling at Sandheads for lighterage operations. It has already started, and we just handled on the high seas an LPG tanker that carried a higher parcel load (Details below),”

Vinit Kumar, chairman, SMP Kolkata

At SMP Kolkata the cargo volumes have dropped, leading to a loss of 2 MT of cargo as the Tamilnadu’s power utility Tangedco which once used Haldia port to procure coal from Eastern Coalfields Ltd till 2019-20 shifts to procuring coal from Mahanadi Coalfield Ltd of Odisha using ports in that state.

The Haldia port also saw a dip in coal movement. While the end-users like steel plants bring coal directly for their requirement, coal traders also actively use the port for stock and sell purposes. As coal prices zoomed from April this year in the international market, traders have become less active.

With Haldia hamstrung by coal, Calcutta suffered on account of the disruption in container movement. The ports which now largely depend on Colombo and Singapore as the transshipment hub for container movement, during COVID, felt the backlash of the substantial delays in port operations.

Calcutta port chairman Vinit Kumar believes the port should be able to attain volumes seen in 2019-20 through greater high sea operations.

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