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India: As coal imports fall, major ports chalk out new strategies

With coal imports declining, most major ports of the country are looking at coastal shipping and diversifying cargo to offset the impact on capacity utilisation.

According to the Indian Ports Association, the amount of thermal coal handled at major ports during April-September was 41.31 million tonnes, down 16 per cent from the corresponding period last year.

Except Kolkata and New Mangalore ports, all other major ones witnessed a significant fall in thermal coal imports in the period under review.

“Keeping in mind the falling imports of coal, major ports are equipped with a business development plan and are looking at transporting domestically produced thermal coal, apart from other commodities via coastal shipping,” said K Ravichandran, group head, corporate sector ratings, ICRA.

Source: Indian Port Association

Gujarat-based Kandla Port, which handles four million tonnes of thermal coal annually, is in talks with Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) for coastal movement. The port is offering a rebate of up to 52.5 per cent.

“Currently, salt exports are picking up and, along with some more cargo diversification, we are planning to fill this gap of 4 million tonnes. As of now, there is a gap of just about one million tonne since exports of black stone chips, chickpeas and fertilisers have offset the impact of coal,” said M S Balani, traffic manager, Kandla Port.

For the long term, the port is planning to target foodgrains, cotton, tiles, and other agri products, further diversifying its cargo mix.

Visakhapatnam, on the other hand, is looking to diversify cargo by exporting bauxite from Jharsuguda and is also working on stepping up exports of steel.

“Currently, the utilisation of the port is just 60 per cent whereas it should be 80-90 percent. The issue is mainly with thermal coal imports and not coking coal used in making steel. Hence, we do not see that section of coal (coking) imports getting affected,” said Krishna Babu, chairman of Visakhapatnam Port.

During April-September, Visakhapatnam Port handled coking coal of 2.7 million tonnes as against 2.3 million tonnes in the corresponding period last year.

In total, major ports handled coking coal of 24.78 million tonnes, up 3.31 per cent on a year-on-year basis.

“Though ports are looking at coastal and also diversifying cargo, it will take at least four years for them to meet the gap of coal import loss,” said Ravichandran.

“Diversifying to liquids, LNG, and container cargo could be some options ports such as Paradip and Visakhapatnam may consider in the long run,” he said.

Visakhapatnam is planning to convert its coal berth into a multipurpose one in the next three-four months, after it has taken it over from Adani, with which it is in a public-private-partnership (PPP) contract.

However, not all major ports are facing reduced coal imports though they continue to feel the threat of lower capacity utilisation.

East coast-based Kamarajar Port (the erstwhile Ennore) is transporting domestic coal via coastal shipping but sees a threat to its coal cargo from growing solar and wind power plants in the region.

“Our revenues are expected to remain stagnant for at least next two years,” said V Krishnasamy, general manager (operations), Kamarajar Port.
Source: Business Standard

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