New Delhi / Bangalore: State-run Coal India Ltd (CIL), the country’s largest coal mining firm, is looking to partner another state-owned company, Shipping Corp. of India Ltd (SCI), to form a joint venture to import coal to control costs as overseas purchases of the fuel are set to surge.
The venture is expected to be on the lines of the company that CIL has planned with Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) for coal imports in which both firms plan to hold a 25% stake, with the remaining held by other strategic partners.
“We have held initial talks with the Shipping Corp. and its CMD (chairman and managing director) for a partnership” and will make it formal “when the time comes”, said Partha Bhattacharyya, CMD of CIL. “We will create a benchmark and if we need more capacity, we will involve the private sector as well.”
CIL is keen to acquire equity in overseas coal blocks to bridge the gap between demand and supply of the fuel in the domestic market, even as coal production in the country continues to decelerate.
“Supply chain integration for coal sourcing from foreign assets makes business sense in light of the historical peaks in coal prices and shipping charter rates,” said Dipesh Dipu, principal consultant (mining) with audit and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Now, when the markets have slumped, it may present an opportunity to build capacities in logistics that may complement Coal India’s efforts of acquiring and mining coal assets abroad,” he said.
The move will also protect the company against volatility in the international prices of coal. Currently CIL imports around 29 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of thermal coal, which is slated to increase to 40 mtpa shortly.
The company is looking at opportunities in countries such as Mozambique, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Africa and Australia.
“We have chosen Shipping Corporation as we both are public sector units,” Bhattacharyya said.
While an SCI spokesperson declined to comment, a director, who did not want to be identified, said, “If the CMD of Coal India and the CMD of SCI had talks on such a plan, it is yet to be converted into a proposal for the consideration of the board.”
India has 256 billion tonnes of coal reserves, of which around 455 mtpa are mined.
CIL is targeting a production of 435 mt this year, against 403.73 mt in 2008-09. The country expects imports to rise from 59 mt of coal now to around 100 mtpa by 2012.
Demand is expected to reach about two billion tonnes a year by 2031-32, around five times the current rate of extraction, with the maximum demand coming from the power sector.
“An alliance with the PSU (public sector unit) shipping major may mean access to market intelligence and expertise for Coal India, on the one hand, and may help SCI hedge risk of business cycles in international bulk trades, on the other,” said Dipu of PricewaterhouseCoopers.