Monday, January 5, 2009

Stranded containers

Though the first marine container landed in India in 1973 at the Cochin Port, the first container terminals took some time to come into being. Until 1988, the Indian Railways had the maximum experience in container shipment operations, so when the Container Corporation of India (ConCor) was established, almost all its employees were drawn from the Railways. The railways had by then set up a few inland container depots, but full fledged container terminals came into being only after ConCor was set up. The Chennai Container Terminal's website claims that it is the oldest container terminal in India: there is not enough data to back up this claim, but there doesn't seem to be any counter claim either.

The Chennai Container Terminal is located inside the Port of Chennai itself and since 2001, has been managed by DP World (the original licence was awarded to P&O Ports, which was taken over by DP World in 2006). Business - as measured by throughput - has grown almost threefold over the past 6 years; oddly enough, this measure is only approximate, for the volume of cargo in containers is measured by a something called Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). A standard TEU is the capacity equivalent of a 20' x 8' container, without considering the height, which could either be 4'3" or 9'; and then there is the 45' long container, which is considered as equivalent to 2 TEUs!

Whatever the actual volume may be, the containers at the Chennai Container Terminal began piling up portside during the last week of 2008. The container truck operators, who had to move these to the forwarding and transhipment stations at Tondiarpet and from there to other parts of India, mostly by the northbound roads from Chennai, refused to do so until the roads of North Chennai were relaid!

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