Center-owned ports record bearish cargo trends, resurgence expected in 2024

In a noteworthy transformation, major ports under the jurisdiction of the central government which were grappling with sluggish growth in the ongoing fiscal year, witnessed a remarkable turnback in October. The Indian Ports Association (IPA) released provisional data that showcased an incredible growth of 13% in cargo handling volumes to reach 70 million MT.

This development signifies a pivotal moment in the fiscal year 2023-24 (FY24), marking the first instance of major ports achieving double-digit percentage growth and surpassing the 70 million MT milestone.

The past year (FY22-23) has been quite a difficult one for major ports, even despite considerable investments in infrastructure for modernization and capacity expansion. This rough phase was attributed partly to the repercussions of the Russia-Ukraine war. The tepid performance persisted into the current financial year, driven partly by global headwinds. The cargo growth rate between April and September was a modest 2.4%. However, the recent surge in October propelled FY24 cargo growth in major ports to nearly 4%.

The handling of containers, constituting approximately a quarter of all cargo at state-owned ports, notably increased by 19% in October, suggesting heightened movements of finished goods within the maritime economy. Notably, container handling at major ports had only grown by 7% until September.

However, IPA data did not specify if the growth was a result of goods moving internationally or in the domestic premises. While global economic headwinds were cited as contributing factors, state-owned ports faced additional scrutiny due to the faster cargo traffic growth observed at private ports.

Earlier reports indicated that coastal cargo, a focal point in the central government’s Union Budget for the current financial year, showed almost no growth in major ports in FY24. In contrast, privately owned ports witnessed a substantial 21% growth in traffic during the same period. Notably, volumes of thermal coal, coking coal, and other industrial coal grew by 10% in October, with iron ore traffic more than doubling, as reported by Business Standard.

The Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways reported that between April and October, 76.81 mt of raw materials and goods were transported through inland waterways, representing a 9.92% increase compared to the same period last year (69.88 mt). In October alone, 314,645 tonnes of cargo moved through the India-Bangladesh Protocol Route.

According to the shipping ministry, major ports have demonstrated significant improvement in key operational performance parameters during the current financial year.

  • Average Output per Ship Berth day increased by 8.74%
  • Turnaround time improved by 8.61%
  • Percentage of idle time at berth reduced by 19%
  • Average pre-berthing time saw a remarkable reduction of almost 59.5%, indicating substantial efficiency gains in port operations.

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