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Wednesday, July 04, 2001

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Low productivity at Kochi container terminal daunts shipping community

V. Sajeev Kumar

KOCHI, July 3

THE shipping community at Kochi Port has expressed concern over the declining productivity at the container terminal (CT) in the recent period, thereby affecting the export of stuffed containers to various destinations.

Sources at the port told Business Line that the productivity at the CT had come down to 50-55 moves per shift nowadays as against 80-85 moves per shift which was prevailing there two months ago. ``This has affected the image of the port badly and has res ulted in shutting out (leaving behind) stuffed export containers by container vessels'', the sources added.

The main reasons attributed by the vessel operators for this included inexperienced operators, improper stack planning, frequent equipment breakdown coupled with the onset of monsoon which hampered loading and unloading operations. They also cited two in stances of shutting out of containers by vessels recently. A Singapore vessel MV Condem sailed out from the port on June 30 night leaving behind 8 TEUs and another vessel -- Orient Patriot -- plying in the Salala-Dubai sector left around 270 TEUs on July 2.

However, the Colombo-Kochi shuttle services were forced to stay in the terminal till the completion of entire operations as they have no other options but to accept the entire bookings, the sources added.

The improper planning of stack was one of the reasons pointed out by shippers for low productivity as it led to unnecessary congestions of stuffed containers in the terminal. Laying of empty containers and arrival of large number of raw cashew nuts in bo xes due to season had also worsened the situation which had resulted in lack of sufficient stacking place in the terminal.

If the port had made arrangements to shift empty containers to yards immediately after unloading from vessels, the problems of congestions could be solved to a certain extent.

Another reason cited by them was the transfer of 50 per cent of the experienced equipment operators from the CT to other departments. The frequent breakdown of equipment had also affected the productivity as the stack area had already surpassed the targe t of one lakh teus per annum.

Ruling out a drastic drop in productivity, senior port officials said that shutting out of containers by vessels had happened last week due to bunching of vessels in the terminal coupled with slight breakdown in equipments. Some vessels had sailed out wi thout loading all the containers due to the deadline in sailing. But they made arrangements to pick those containers left in the terminal in its next voyage.

Regarding stacking problem in the terminal, the officials said that handling of empty containers was one of the major requirements in Kochi as exports outweigh imports through this port. Kochi is one of the main port handling empty containers as it handl ed around 40,000 TEUs empty. But the port had made all arrangements to shift these empty containers to yards in order to pave the way for stuffed boxes meant for export.

#The officials also pointed out that the introduction of VRS and roll back in the retirement age had resulted in the induction of new staff in the terminal. The problem of inexperience could be solved shortly as the port had initiated steps to provide tr aining to them.

Moreover, the shippers said that in all the other ports, the container terminal was managed by a Terminal Manager looking after both traffic/operations and his responsibility was to increase productivity. But in Kochi, the Traffic Manager was responsible for traffic and Chief Mechanical Engineer was looking after operations. This had also resulted in lack of coordination between the two departments.

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