Representational Image l Kochi Port l Photo: ANI
Kochi: The industrial community in Kerala is expressing hesitancy to rely on the Kochi coast for their import and export activities. Despite Kochi port handling a significant portion of the state's imports and exports, issues such as high container charges, plugging, storage costs, container handling charges, and cargo movement delays caused by multiple agencies' involvement are pushing industries to seek alternatives.
Ports like Mumbai, Mundra, Chennai, Mangalore, and Thoothukudi are able to obtain all necessary clearances within one or two days, while businesses complain of delays in Kochi. Kerala relies on imports of foodstuffs and dates from Iran and the UAE, but many are apprehensive about using the Kochi coast directly. Importers have voiced concerns about the delays in product release after inspections, negatively impacting their trade deals and resulting in lost orders. Exporters, on the other hand, face higher container rates due to the lack of available empty containers, leading to challenges in maintaining accuracy in export orders.
Recently, various service charges at Kochi port saw an increase of 12.12 per cent. For instance, while it costs a businessman around Rs 15 lakh to dock a ship at Chennai port, the expense can reach up to Rs 60 lakh at Kochi.
In addition to these costs, industrialists have to spend a substantial amount on road transportation when relying on ports in other states. Transporting goods from Kochi to Kozhikode by road amounts to around Rs 25,000, whereas it can cost up to Rs 65,000 when transported from Chennai port to Kozhikode. An importer from Kozhikode said he is forced to bear this loss.
Blow to Vallarpadam
According to data released by the Union Ministry of Shipping, major ports across the country handled 7,950 lakh tonnes of cargo in the financial year 2022-23, marking a 10.4 per cent increase. However, Kochi port only managed 353 lakh tonnes of cargo. Container movement through Vallarpadam has witnessed a notable decline, dropping from a record high of 7.35 lakh containers in FY 2021-22 to 6.95 lakh containers in 2022-23, the first decrease in ten years.
Shipping companies did not reduce the container rates which were hiked seven times during the Covid period. Kochi port's attempts to attract ships headed to the Colombo coast amidst the Sri Lankan crisis did not yield desired results. Despite organisations like the Kerala Exporters Forum highlighting the port's issues to the government on several occasions, no significant outcomes have been seen so far.