Saturday, July 19, 2008

Harbouring ambitions

The Chennai Port is 127 years old this year - or so they say. It is one of the quirks of this city that the Port's anniversary does not actually mark the commencement of the day the Port was open for business; rather, it marks the anniversary of a severe storm that completely washed away the first 2 L-shaped breakwaters built to provide a safe harbour. Work on these breakwaters commenced in 1876 and was almost complete when the storm wreaked its havoc in November 1881. Besides the breakwaters, the railway tracks used for transporting construction material, the cranes and some of the other masonry work on the docks was damaged beyond repair. It took about 4 years before work on building a permanent harbour commenced again and it was completed in 1896.

As a counterpoint, the first pier of the Madras Harbour was in operation as early as 1861 - that would make the Chennai Port 20 years older - but storms in 1868 and 1872 damaged it so badly that it became unfit for use. And even before the pier was built, the fishing village of Chennapatnam is reported to have had a rough road out into the sea, serving as a pier, as far back as the 1630s. Be that as it may, until the harbour was ready, ships to Madras would drop anchor about half-a-kilometer out to sea and cargo was transported to land using lighter boats called 'Masulas'.

Today, the Port has specialized docks - it handles about 12% of India's iron ore exports through a dedicated ore handling plant and receives Suezmax category oil tankers to feed the refineries in Chennai - and was also the first in the country to set up a dedicated container terminal facility which is among the top 5% of such terminals worldwide.

Chennai might not have a romantic seafaring tradition - which makes it all the more creditable that it has overcome the disadvantage of not having a natural harbour to hover in the list of the top 3 ports in India, year after year!


Anonymous said...

An interesting story to read. Nice post.

Abraham Lincoln
—Brookville Daily Photo

moochhi said...

great, quirky photos. same place different view. like the commentary which goes along. informative and interesting.

have seen all the photos in the scroll down, cant say which one i like best - the shore temple is vivid, the love sign with T&C apply is funny, st thomas mount takes me back in time (yes, it is difficult to recognise the city).

keep the photos rolling.


LVISS said...

U ave forgotten to mention the tsunami which also shook the port.

Shantaram said...

>> Abe>> Thank you! Glad to know that you keep visiting!!

>> Moochhi>> Thanks for taking the time out to go through a month of photos! Do come back to check the others!

>> Ravindran>> You're right; the tsunami did shake the port - but major disaster didn't happen. There was an oil tanker unloading when the tsunami hit... the damage would have been huge.

Anonymous said...

Where were you standing on top to get this super shot?

Shantaram said...

>> Ram>> Was on top of Dare House - the photo was taken quite a few weeks ago!