Bangalore: Of the three terminals at India’s busiest container port Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai, Gateway Terminals India Pvt. Ltd was the only one to handle volumes higher than the previous year. Arvind Bhatnagar, chief executive officer of Gateway Terminals—74% owned by APM Terminals Management BV, the container terminal operating unit of Danish shipping and oil conglomerate AP Moller-Maersk AS, and 26% by state-run rail hauler of containers, Container Corp. of India Ltd—spoke about how it managed higher volumes in a global downturn and the outlook for the coming year. Edited excerpts:
The slowdown doesn’t seem to have affected Gateway Terminals. Yours was the only terminal at Jawaharlal Nehru Port that registered an increase in volumes. How did you manage this?
No setbacks: Bhatnagar says the service levels at the terminal have helped business remain steady.
We have managed to achieve this growth because of our relentless commitment to improving productivity in every way we can. This, combined with augmenting our infrastructure and providing value added services across our entire customer base, has led to achieving the milestone of three million standard containers in less than three years of starting operations.
At current level of throughput, is Gateway Terminals operating at full capacity?
We are not operating at our full capacity of 1.8 million standard containers yet. We are hopeful to be running at full steam in the next coming quarters with the improvement in the overall global economic scenario.
What are you doing to increase capacity and productivity?
Gateway Terminals has made an additional investment of Rs80 crore to upgrade infrastructure and equipment that will increase our capacity by almost 40%.
What is the trade trend you are seeing at the terminal? To what extent has the container cargo to the US and Europe been affected because of the slowdown?
We are more focused on Middle East, Far East, Africa and the Mediterranean (region). The slowdown has had some negative fallouts on the cargo movement to the US and Europe as exports have come under pressure. Generally, the global trends in trade are reflected at our terminal also. However, because of our service levels and productivity as well as the strategic location of the port, we have not seen drastic falls compared with other terminals in the world.
What is the outlook for the new fiscal that began on 1 April?
We expect the container sector to record 15-20% growth during the current financial year. Container trade is also expected to increase with improved container rail networks connecting major Indian cities. India offers a very good opportunity for container operations as it is the second fastest growing economy in the world. There has been a strong growth in container movement globally in the last 50 years. The forecast is that by 2020, the number of containers handled in ports throughout the world will be one billion standard containers. Given this scenario, the container business in India remains bullish. The slowdown is happening and we have to accept it. But it will not affect the traffic flow on the longer-term. During all the previous recessions, the container sector always performed better than the general economy.
How optimistic are you about retaining the current volumes?
Our focus at Gateway Terminals has always been to be the most preferred container terminal for its customers. Our advanced container handling infrastructure, real-time Web access to customers, dedicated and efficient team, intra-Asian routes, routes between Asia and North America, and between the Far East and Europe, will help us retain the current volumes. Despite current economic slowdown, container shipping will continue to be a growth sector (7-8% a year till 2015). Degree of containerization will continue to rise, especially in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia.