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To some, the hustle bustle at ports may seem like the old-fashioned way of doing things, but a closer look tells a different story. Ports are the channel for trade and are vital in any nation that depends on shipping for importing and exporting cargo and passengers. There is a very detailed, well thought-out system in place that constantly keeps up with the changing demands in world trade. Managing ports today is a highly complex business and depends on the combination of material handling, road transport, storage, safe ship operations, health and safety while keeping in mind the immense responsibility of protecting the local environment.

A typical scene at a busy seaport terminal would have container ships carrying steel, automobiles, computer products, food items and apparel with several cranes lifting the heavy containers into the ship. Seaport workers load the vessel and maintain tight control over inventories and scan individual containers for radiation, ensuring that no unauthorised material leaves the docks.

The core modules of port management are designed to train aspiring managers in the essential management skills required today for meeting the challenges of the ever-growing sea freight market.

What do I have to do?

Large ports need to deal with a number of disparate activities like the movement, loading and unloading of ships, containers and other cargo, customs activities as well as human resources.

Anchorage, channels, lighters, tugs, berths, the warehouse and other storage spaces have to be allocated. The efficient management of a port involves managing these activities and resources, managing the flow of money between the agents providing and using these resources and updating all management-related information.

The predominant commodities and cargo types handled at major ports are petroleum products, iron ore, coal and containers.

Activities generally include managing budgets, financial planning, providing a cost-effective service that takes into consideration environmental, efficiency and safety issues, recruiting, training and supervising staff as well as liaising with associated council departments, commercial organisations and stakeholders. Jobs commonly entail working long hours and shifts, including weekends.

What should I study?

You should have completed your bachelors in science with a minimum of 60 per cent in maths and physics. The syllabus includes the management of people in the ports industry, customer focus, environmental issues, strategic analysis, port security, emergency response and managing marine operations in ports, among others.

What next?

On completion of the course, you are eligible to occupy managerial positions in shipping companies, agency houses, clearing and forwarding firms, export / import houses and major ports worldwide. Large manufacturing and trading companies and related government departments also recruit port managers.

India has more than 5,000 kilometres of coastline lined with about 150 working ports including 13 major ports. They handle almost 90 per cent of India’s total foreign trade. A number of private companies have already set up port facilities in the country. Two ports have been set up through private participation and a number of foreign companies like Peninsular and Oriental (P&O) ports of Australia, PSA-Sical Terminals Limited, International Sea Ports Limited (ISPL) and the Shell-Essar consortium are in the process of investing in the port sector in the country.

The port privatisation policy announced by the government deals with the leasing of existing port assets, constructing additional assets at major ports, leasing equipment for cargo handling and so on.

Although all coastal states have announced a port privatisation policy to attract investment to develop ports in their states, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh offer interesting opportunities for port development.

An expert group set up by the government has predicted overall port traffic to be 900 million MT by December 2011. For the creation of additional port capacity and infrastructure to meet traffic projection targets, initiative worth Rs 1,000 billion called Sagar Mala has been set up with the collaboration of the National Highway Development Programme (NHDP). The Sagar Mala project, to be completed in the next eight to 10 years, envisages setting up of new ports, modernising existing ones and connecting all ports with national highways.

The impact of the government policy on privatisation of ports and allowing 100 per cent FDI has been immediate. The sector has seen significant levels of FDI from several international port developers and operators.

Port managers are employed by a number of private and public port authorities in companies like the British Ports Association, Hutchison Port Holdings, Forth Ports, Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, Schneider Logistics and others.

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