At the Mundra Port in Gujarat, a well-managed and hi-tech Ro-Ro terminal is the No.1 choice of carmakers who are in export mode.
Though two days ahead of schedule, Mundra Port was all prepared to receive it and in less than 24 hours, export-ready Maruti Altos were loaded and parked within the cavernous interiors of the car- carrier, which set sail on the afternoon of May 23. This was a ‘live’ example that this correspondent witnessed which stands testimony to the fact that the port is increasingly becoming one of India’s most important ones.
It was not long ago that Gautam Adani, chairman and founder of the Adani Group, had a vision to convert a barren, wet desert situated on the northern shores of the Gulf of Kutch into an economic powerhouse. The Adani Group not only operates Mundra, which is India’s largest private port, but the adjoining SEZ area, making it India’s only multi-commodity port.
This state-of-the-art port is attracting big business and proof of that may well be seen in the fact that the Kandla Port, one of India’s largest, and operating since 1957, loaded 93.6 million metric tonnes of cargo during the last financial year. Meanwhile, not far behind, Mundra, which started operations in 2001 (car exports began in 2009), has handled 82 million metric tonnes of cargo during the same year. Officials at Port of Mundra say that in all likelihood, the cargo handling for 2013-14 will exceed the 100 million metric tonnes mark. These statistics are a clear indication of how the port has managed to play a significant role in the region’s economic landscape, not to forget the supportive role of the Gujarat government.
Owned by the state government, the port has been given to Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd (APSEZ) on a contract that involves developing and managing the upcoming trade centre. While experts attribute the success of Mundra to its strategic location, the efficient management of the port infrastructure has helped chart out a growth trajectory for the APSEZ. A recent visit to the port was a revelation for this correspondent and provided a view of what is crucial to India’s endeavours as a growing exporter of cars and auto components. Even as Mundra prepares to berth one of the largest container ships in the world (14,000 TEUs), it could very soon become the only terminal in India with such a capacity, thanks to the deep draught of up to 17 metres at the port. As far as automotive operations go, Mundra has one Ro-Ro terminal which handles one pure car- carrier (PCC) at a time and up to six or seven vessels a month. The turnover time for PCCs is around 18 to 20 hours. The focus is to ensure that turnaround time is as little as possible so that the vessel can head to its next destination without any time lag, ensuring that the next vessel will not have to wait for a berthing slot.
Mundra’s automotive operations are handled by a team of 100 officials who manage a strictly defined flow of operations. According to Vasant R Murthy, CEO – container ports & logistics, Adani Ports & SEZ, “Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and Nissan are our major customers. We currently ship out around 100,000 units every year. We have focused on quality service delivery." That is echoed by an NYL official who says, “I have not seen such smooth flow of operations and good maintenance at any other Indian port. While the dredgers maintain a good depth of water along the port, the water is not polluted.”
So what is a typical day in the life of Mundra’s Ro-Ro service? This correspondent was able to get a pretty comprehensive peek. The bulk of Maruti Suzuki cars arrive at the port via railway wagons, are unloaded and driven to the pre-delivery inspection (PDI) area where each unit undergoes a close inspection of possible damages. The PDI area has a parking capacity of nearly 9,000 cars which as per their turn, are driven to the buffer yard (park capacity: nearly 2,000 cars), located near the terminal. On the morning of May 22, when the vessel had not yet arrived at the port, I saw the export Altos already parked at the buffer yard. No wonder loading operations could take place quickly and efficiently.
The cars destined for export markets were all washed at the area located on the way to the floating pontoon. The cars were washed with water from the Narmada river before trained drivers drove them into the vessel via the loading ramp. As the cars are driven in, vans that accompany the cars bring the drivers back to the buffer yard so that the next instalment can be driven in. According to the port officials, Mundra is the only port in South-Asia (apart from some in South Korea) which has a Ro-Ro terminal equipped with a floating pontoon. The pontoon is a massive slab connected with a bridge which floats on the water. Hence, even in the event high tides, the cars can be safely driven onto the loading ramp of the vessel. This means that continuous loading is possible when the vessel has berthed, saving time.
The cars are driven onto the given level (one of 12 parking levels within the ship) and placed as per the bar-codes. The bar-coding enables digitisation of all information (models loaded, exact location, colour, and other details) which is a huge advantage and simplifies the job when the cars are unloaded at their final destination.
Port officials say that Mundra is the only Indian port that maintains records electronically. Each vehicle is secured with a minimum of four nylon tie-down straps onto the hooks on the floor and adequate space is kept between two vehicles. Having briefly met the busy captain of the NYK Line car-carrier, I realised that sailing in these nautical workhorses is surely not a leisure cruise. As far as the future goes, Murthy says, “We are in constant touch with OEMs in Gujarat and decisions will be taken for further increase in capacity based on agreements reached, projections and requirements. We do have the capacity to develop the additional infrastructure required and with speed. I must add that on the arrival of a vessel, priority of berthing is given to the car-carriers. We have the ability to provide integrated solutions across the supply chain from the OEM's manufacturing centre upto loading of cars on the vessel. Mundra can scale up to handle large traffic.”
Rail and road connectivity is another big plus for this port. “Being connected with the national and state highway roads ensures good reach to the manufacturing facilities of the OEMs setting up shop in Gujarat. The port also has the advantage of handling double-stack trains and long-haul trains, depending on the OEM’s export potential and parcel size,” concludes Murthy. The company has built the 117km Mundra-Adipur rail link to ensure that inland cargo is transported efficiently. Given all its strengths and its built-for-future capacity , Mundra Port is already drawing much interest from automakers investing in Gujarat and keen on pushing exports.
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