Anchored Ambitions: Vizhinjam Port and India’s Quest for Maritime Supremacy
India’s vision of becoming a key player in the Indian Ocean transshipment industry took a significant step forward on October 15, as the Vizhinjam International Seaport, located near Thiruvananthapuram in the southern state of Kerala, welcomed its inaugural ship, the Hong Kong-flagged Zhen Hua 15. This ship, carrying cranes from Shanghai for the port site, symbolizes the port’s emergence as India’s first deepwater container transshipment hub.
What makes Vizhinjam Port stand out is its natural draft of 18-20 meters, allowing some of the largest container vessels in the world to dock here. Port authorities proudly state that Vizhinjam Port can handle container vessels with a capacity of 24,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) and more. Its strategic location, just 10 nautical miles from the international shipping route connecting Europe, the Persian Gulf, and East Asia, means around 30 percent of the world’s maritime cargo passes through this area.
Operated by Adani Vizhinjam Ports Private Ltd, a subsidiary of Adani Ports and SEZ Ltd, Vizhinjam Port is fully owned by the Kerala government. It is slated to be fully operational by May 2024, with a capacity of 1 million TEUs in its initial phase and an additional 6.2 million TEUs to be added in subsequent phases.
India’s 7,500-kilometer-long coastline is dotted with approximately 200 major and minor ports. However, the country’s port infrastructure has historically been inadequate. None of these ports rank among the world’s top 30 ports, and most of them have shallow drafts, making them unsuitable for large-tonnage vessels prevalent in international maritime trade today.
This limitation forces ships with cargo destined for India to offload at nearby transshipment ports, such as Colombo in Sri Lanka, Jebel Ali in Dubai, Klang in Malaysia, and Singapore Port. These foreign ports handle nearly 75 percent of India’s transshipped cargo, with Colombo Port alone managing 45 percent of these consignments.
Vizhinjam Port aims to change this paradigm. With the capacity to address 75 percent of India’s container transshipment needs, it is poised to save India significant foreign exchange previously spent on transshipment services abroad. The port’s location and capabilities make it an attractive choice for shipping companies. However, to thrive in the competitive shipping industry, Vizhinjam Port must focus on competitive pricing, efficient turnaround times, and enhance overland connectivity infrastructure, including roads and railways.
Moreover, north of Vizhinjam Port, another container transshipment terminal operates at Vallarpadam in Kochi, Kerala, managed by Dubai Ports World. Additionally, a third transshipment port is in development at Galathea Bay in the Great Nicobar Island, aiming to attract large container ships destined for countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar.
While concerns have been raised about the proximity of these transshipment ports, experts believe that they can coexist harmoniously. Ports in close proximity, such as Port Klang and Port of Tanjung Pelepas in Malaysia, and Jebel Ali and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, have successfully thrived together. Similarly, Vallarpadam and Vizhinjam can complement each other by catering to different segments of the shipping industry.
In conclusion, while natural advantages and strategic location are essential, competitive pricing, efficient operations, and robust connectivity will determine India’s success in becoming a major Indian Ocean transshipment hub. Vizhinjam Port’s journey is a significant step in realizing this vision, marking a promising chapter in India’s maritime industry.