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Haldia berth tide turns
- Adani, Concast among eight interested in bidding

Calcutta, Dec. 13: Eight investors, including leading port operator Adani Group, have evinced interest in mechanised handling of cargo at two Haldia port berths vacated by Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) last year, marking a turn in the tide.

This is the third time Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) has floated tenders for handling of cargo at the berths. The CPT had drawn a blank in its last two attempts as the rates offered by interested parties were considered to be too high.

Mechanised cargo handler HBT, a consortium of India’s ABG and France’s LDA, quit the berths in November 2012 citing law-and-order concerns.

HBT’s exit had dented Bengal’s image in the business community and hit cargo movement in Haldia as shippers began using ports in neighbouring states.

In the absence of mobile harbour cranes, cargo is being handled manually at the two Haldia berths, bringing down the capacity to 25 per cent and spiking costs. Many modern ships opted for other ports as they could not be unloaded manually.

Today, Adani, Concast, Universal Seaports, ISHPL, Orissa Stevedors, TMILL, Ripley and JM Buxi held a pre-bid meeting with the CPT.

The development is being seen by port observers as the “beginning of a turnaround” for the riverine Haldia port at a time it is struggling with reduced navigability because of siltation.

“This is an encouraging sign. It indicates that the atmosphere is positive this year. The port’s cargo movement has increased 6.52 per cent (between November 2012 and the same month this year),” said R.P.S. Kahlon, the CPT chairman.

Port officials said the final bid would be called on December 23 and the contract would be awarded by the end of January.

The company that gets the contract will set up mobile harbour cranes and handle bulk cargo such as coal and iron ore for 10 years.

Earlier this year, a consortium led by Orissa Stevedors, which has a sizeable presence at the Paradip port, had offered to handle cargo at Haldia for Rs 171 a tonne. But the CPT had discharged the tender, saying the quote was too high. Orissa Stevedors has gone to court against the CPT. The matter is pending in Calcutta High Court.

The CPT, sources said, had earlier worked out that the cargo handling charge an operator should ask from the port should not exceed Rs 125 a tonne.

However, port officials have now realised that an upward revision of the price was needed. HBT used to charge Rs 75 a tonne for handling cargo.

CPT officials said the Adani Group could be looking at synergy in cargo operations between the ports in Haldia and Odisha’s Dhamra. The Gujarat-based company is in the process of taking over Dhamra, the port nearest to Haldia on the east coast, from a joint venture between Tata Steel and L&T.

The Sanjay Sureka-owned Concast was also in favour of a long-term co-operation between the Haldia port and the new dock system it is building in the town in partnership with South Korea’s Hyundai.

LPG rush

Six companies have shown interest in developing an LPG hub around an idle oil jetty in Haldia, a development some in the CPT dubbed unexpected.

Apart from top public sector firm BPCL, Aegis Logistic, KIS Oil, Ganesh Benzoplast, JVL Refinery and India Molasses have participated in a tender to bring 3 million tonnes of LPG to Haldia.

So far, IOC-Petronas is the only firm bringing LPG to Haldia. It brings in 1.4 million tonnes. With the partial deregulation of the sector and a steep demand in the eastern region, more players are joining the game.

“This could be a big breakthrough for Haldia, which has lost out on petroleum cargo after Indian Oil built a pipeline and started bringing crude from Paradip. We may regain some of the cargo if the LPG hub takes off,” a senior CPT official said.