Mumbai: The government plans to make it mandatory for private entities operating container terminals in India’s state-owned major ports to deploy a minimum of three quay cranes per ship at all times.
This is one of the key recommendations made by a six-member inter-ministerial group headed by the secretary, department of shipping to cut down the “dwell time” for ships and cargo/containers at major ports to cope with the demand created by Asia’s third-fastest growing economy, after China and Japan.
Dwell time of cargo/containers and ships broadly reflects the efficiency of a port. Vessel-related dwell time, or turn around time of a ship, refers to length of time from when a vessel reports in, to the time it sails out from its berth.
Cargo/container-related dwell time, on the other hand, refers to the time cargo/container remains in a terminal’s in-transit storage area, while awaiting shipment by vessels in the case of exports or evacuation by rail/road in the case of imports.
The average turn around time for vessels calling at Indian ports ranges from 1.77 to 4.82 days. These ports are located at Mumbai, Navi Mumbai (Jawaharlal Nehru port), Kandla, Kolkata, Kochi, Chennai, New Mangalore, Tuticorin, Visakhapatnam, Mormugao, Haldia, Paradip and Ennore.
The average dwell-time for containers at Indian ports is 1.88 days for imports and 3.78 days for exports. In comparison, the dwell time at Singapore port, considered Asia’s hub port, is less than a day (0.6) for both import and export containers.
However, the actual time taken by a port authority in India, for handling containers in the container terminal, is 3.5-5.5 hours for import and 3.3-5.3 hours for export. The rest of the time, the container stays in the port on account of others, such as shipping agents, customs, clearing agents and transporters.
“A reduction in dwell time would reduce the transaction cost and increase the capacity of the existing port infrastructure. This, in turn, would facilitate trade in general and will enhance the competitiveness of Indian goods in international markets,” the committee set up by the prime minister’s committee on infrastructure, said in its report last year.
Inadequate cargo-handling equipment and machinery at Indian ports has been cited as one of the reasons for the higher dwell-time for cargo/containers and ships.
Sophisticated container-handling equipment like quay cranes are available only in a few ports such as Chennai, Mumbai and Kochi, while the other ports depend on conventional cranes or cranes on-board the ship.
Because there are fewer quay cranes per vessel, the crane rate in most of the container terminals in India is about 45-50 containers per hour, which is below the international benchmark of 75-100 containers per hour.
Crane rate is the total number of containers loaded/unloaded from a ship in one hour by quay cranes.
Indian ports have two quay cranes per vessel on an average, which can load/unload 45-50 containers per hour. This leads to late turn-around of a vessel and subsequently, a high dwell-time. In comparison, Singapore port has four quay cranes per vessel which can load/unload 100 containers per hour. Jawaharlal Nehru port, India’s busiest container port, has 24 quay cranes at three terminals, while Singapore has 131 quay cranes at four terminals.
However, private terminal-operators say it would not be logical to deploy more quay cranes without a substantial number of containers to load and discharge. “It does not make sense to deploy more cranes. You cannot do that. It is incorrect,” said Ganesh Raj, senior vice-president and managing director, sub-continent of Dubai-government-owned DP World that runs container terminals in Jawaharlal Nehru, Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Mundra ports.
The number of cranes that are to be deployed per vessel depends on the number of containers to be loaded and unloaded. According to Raj, the parcel-size of a ship calling at the Navi Mumbai port requires a loading/unloading of a maximum of 1,600 containers. “Unless and until the container-carrying capacity of the ships calling at Indian ports increases, there is no point in deploying more quay cranes per vessel,” he said.