PM to inaugurate Kochi international container terminal tomorrow

India's first International Container Trans-shipment Terminal (ICTT) in the Special Economic Zone at nearby Vallarpadam Island is all set to be dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tomorrow.

The total cost of the first and second phase of the terminal is pegged at around Rs 6,250 crore. When completed, the terminal will be able to handle 4 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo per annum. The first phase of the project is ready to handle one million TEUs per annum.

The project will be operated by Dubai Port World (DPW) and aims to make Kochi a key centre in the shipping world, reducing India's dependence on foreign ports to handle trans-shipment requirements, Cochin Port sources said.

Once fully developed, the ICTT, a part of the expansion project at the Cochin Port, would be the largest individual terminal in India. As part of the project, India's longest railway bridge -- 4.62 km long -- was set up over the Vembanad Lake, thereby establishing rail connectivity to Vallarpadam from the mainland.

Port sources said ICTT will generate additional employment opportunities, facilitate investment flow to the tune of Rs 7,500 crore and help in the development of port-based industries to transform Kochi into an economic hub. However, the project is being commissioned at a time when the 326 families that were evicted for setting up the terminal at Vallarpadam are yet to get a roof over their head. Former Supreme Court Judge V R Krishna Iyer has said the move to commission the project without rehabilitating the evictees was 'shameful'.

It is three years since the families from seven villages were evicted from the project site and except four families who have built houses, the others are yet to be rehabilitated, says Francis Kallathingal, Moolampally Coordination Committee General Convenor. The families, including old women an children, live in thatched sheds and rented houses, he told PTI.

The ICTT project was taken up considering the rapid growth of container traffic in India. Due to lack of transshipment facilities in Indian ports, a substantial quantity of container traffic is transshipped through foreign transshipment terminals such as Colombo, Salalah, Dubai and Singapore, resulting in additional costs and delays ranging from seven to 10 days.

The ICTT will provide facilities for handling mother ships and thereby obviate the need for transshipment of Indian containers through other countries. This is expected to result in an average cost saving of USD 300 per box, giving huge benefits to the Export-Import industry, port authorities said.

Port officials said they are hopeful that with commissioning of the terminal, the port will be able to accommodate large-size container vessels of 8,000-TEU capacity. While DPW has invested Rs 1,600 crore, an equal amount has been put in by the central government through the Cochin Port for providing road and rail connectivity in the first phase.

As per the agreement between the Cochin Port Trust (CPT) and DPW, the construction of the terminal, its equipment and operations will be the responsibility of DPW, while providing road and rail connectivity to the project site and deepening the shipping channels will be the responsibility of the port.

Completing the project was a herculean task for the Cochin Port authorities and was made no easier by the construction of the country's longest railway bridge. About 80 per cent of the bridge is built over the backwaters using pile foundations at 133 locations. It measures about 7.5 metres above ground level after the entry and exit points, thereby allowing water channel movement and road crossings beneath it, at Mulavukkad and Chittoor.

In addition to the bridge, a new National Highway was also laid to establish road connectivity to the island. The future development of port facilities has been planned on the greenfield ports land of Puthuvypeen Island, where a Liquified Natural Gas terminal is coming up, and Vallarpadam.

Establishing the NH and rail connectivities to these port areas along with the availability of a deep channel for navigation of large size vessels will make various port development schemes such as the LNG Terminal, International Bunkering Terminal and International Ship Repair Facilities a reality, the sources said.

Among the dignitaries expected to participate in the inaugural function are Kerala Governor R S Gavai, Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, Defence Minister A K Antony, Civil Aviation Minister Vyalar Ravi, Shipping Minister G K Vasan and Minister for Road Transport and Highways, C P Joshi.

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, the Chairman of DPW and Chairman of Dubai Port and Free Zone World, will lead the delegation from Dubai.

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