Cargo transporters want KMB to do more

Even as Kerala Maritime Board (KMB) is readying to charter a vessel to invigorate coastal shipping, many port officials and entrepreneurs in the field say the agency has much to do to shift cargo movement to the approximately 550-km-long coastal waterway that the State has.

The shift of cargo to waterway transport could bring about lesser transportation cost, higher energy efficiency, and subsequently negligible carbon footprint as compared to the highly polluting and accident-prone road transport, they claim.

“The prospects of coastal shipping will improve once Vizhinjam port is completed. Azheekkal port will further improve its potential. One needs a proactive KMB to ensure that vested interests, especially lorry operators who ferry cargo at present, do not play spoilsport,” says a senior official of the Ports Department.

There have been incidents of cargo operators selling off their ships for want of adequate support from the government and the KMB, says A.M. James, general secretary of Kerala Maritime Organisation (KMO) that has ship and barge operators as its members.

Even the existing fleet of vessels of different operators are shoddily under-utilised due to inadequate patronage from stakeholders who continue to rely on lorries. The KMB that began functioning in 2018 must spearhead policies and other steps that will energise the coastal shipping sector.

“Kerala must learn from countries like Bangladesh that rely heavily on ferrying cargo through waterways. For a start, the government must, in a phased manner, impose curbs on transport of fuel and hazardous chemicals through the State’s narrow and congested roads and highways. This in itself will enable at least 20% utilisation of the potential of Kerala’s coastal and inland waterways,” he adds.

T.P. Salimkumar, the newly appointed CEO of KMB, says Kerala’s coastline and 18 minor ports along it offer more potential than that of Gujarat.

Gujarat has been for long considered a pioneer in tapping the potential of waterways for goods transport. “Their maritime board was formed way back in 1980s and the turnover is in the range of crores of rupees. Presently, goods are transported from Kerala’s hinterland to Kochi port through congested roads. This can be avoided if waterways are relied on. The KMB can do much, by utilising dredgers, other machinery and also skilled personnel that the departments concerned have,” he says.

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