The majority of workers involved in drayage operations at International Container Transshipment Terminal, or Vallarpadam, in India’s Cochin Port walked off the job Thursday morning, disrupting freight movements to and from the DP World facility, local shipping sources told JOC.com.
Unionized workers are, reportedly, pushing for wage improvements and better working conditions.
“Truck movements are at a near standstill,” a shipping line agent in Cochin told JOC.com.
“Due to the strike, cargo movements outside the terminal have been affected,” DP World Subcontinent told JOC.com. At the same time, the company maintains its gates are open and that all other activities at the terminal, including vessel-handling, continue to remain smooth.
The drayage stoppage comes as the private terminal, touted as India’s first full-fledged transshipment facility, is inching toward its highest-ever annual throughput of 400,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units in the current fiscal year, which ends March 31. The newest port statistics collected by JOC.com show Vallarpadam handled 393,312 TEUs this fiscal year until Wednesday, growing at a healthy rate of 13.7 percent year-over-year.
The transshipment project, a public-private-partnership between Cochin Port Trust and the Dubai-headquartered group, began commercial operations in February 2011.
Vallarpadam’s first phase includes 1,969 feet of quay, a draft of 48 feet, 99 acres of backup area, four quay cranes, 15 rubber-tire gantry cranes and three reach stackers, capable of handling 1 million TEUs annually. The terminal also has two on-dock rail facilities for intermodal cargo-handling.
When fully built-out, DP World Cochin will be in a position to load 4 million TEUs per year on the back of an 1,800-meter (about 5,905 feet) quay, 18 cranes and 54 RTGs.
The Vallarpadam project was designed to counter the growing dominance of Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port for Indian transshipment cargo, but the terminal’s throughput hasn’t fared that well even after five years of operations, according to industry analysts.
“The Vallarpadam terminal, with its strategic location close to international sea routes and depths of 15.5 to 16 meters, (about 52 feet) was envisioned to bring back India’s international container cargo that is being transshipped through the ports of Colombo (Sri Lanka) and Dubai. With this vision, it became the first container terminal in the country to operate in a special economic zone. However, the terminal has actually handled 0.37 million TEUs in fiscal 2014-15, which is far below the figure of 0.55 million TEUs that it needs to handle to just breakeven,” global port design and consulting firm AECOM said in a recent study.
The consulting firm also said Cochin has limited hinterland cargo reach, which is a major deterrent to many mainline carriers wishing to provide regular calls at Vallarpadam.
“In order to develop further as a gateway port, it is imperative to increase the parcel size on mainline calls to make them viable. The average parcel size today is 450 TEUs on mainline calls and 800 TEUs on feeder services. The minimum viable parcel size for a service is 600 to 1,000 TEUs,” the report said. “At Colombo, liners are able to get a minimum parcel size of 1,200 TEUs, while the average parcel size is approximately 2,200 TEUs. This makes Colombo a more viable option for liners to call at.”
Secondly, Vallarpadam is costlier compared to Colombo, according to AECOM. “Cochin THC (terminal handling charges) and vessel-related costs are 30 percent higher than Colombo. Further, Colombo extends volume-based incentives to liners, which increases the gap in tariffs between Cochin and Colombo.”
With new mainline, weekly service additions, volumes at Vallarpadam have been on the upswing in recent months, and the company expects its future to remain bright despite weaker global demand.
“In spite of the various challenges faced by the terminal, DP World Cochin has achieved remarkable growth in terms of productivity; number of vessels handled as well as crane moves per hour, making it the most productive terminal in South India,” the company told JOC.com.