Chennai Port, the third oldest port among the 12 major ports, is an emerging hub port in the East Coast of India. This gateway port for all cargo has completed 128 years of glorious service to the nation’s maritime trade.
Maritime trade started way back in 1639 on the sea shore Chennai. It was an open road -stead and exposed sandy coast till 1815. The initial piers were built in 1861, but the storms of 1868 and 1872 made them inoperative. So an artificial harbour was built and the operations were started in 1881.The cargo operations were carried out on the northern pier, located on the northeastern side of Fort St. George in Chennai. In the first couple of years the port registered traffic of 3 lakh tonnes of cargo handling 600 ships.
Being an artificial harbour, the port was vulnerable to the cyclones, accretion of sand inside the basin due to underwater currents, which reduced the draft. Sir Francis Spring a visionary skillfully drew a long-term plan to charter the course of the port in a scientific manner, overcoming both man-made and natural challenges. The shifting of the entrance of the port from eastern side to the North Eastern side protected the port to a large extent from the natural vulnerabilities. By the end of 1920 the port was equipped with a dock consisting of four berths in the West Quays, one each in the East & South Quay along with the transit sheds, warehouses and a marshalling yard to facilitate the transfer of cargo from land to sea and vice versa. Additional berths were added with a berth at South Quay and another between WQ2 & WQ3 in the forties.
India’s Independence saw the port gathering development, momentum. The topography of the Port changed in 1964 when the Jawahar dock with capacity to berth 6 vessels to handle Dry Bulk cargoes such as Coal, Iron ore, Fertilizer and non hazardous liquid cargoes was carved out on the southern side.
In tune with the international maritime developments, the port developed the Outer Harbour, named Bharathi Dock for handling Petroleum in 1972 and for mechanized handling of Iron Ore in 1974. The Iron ore terminal is equipped with Mechanized ore handling plant, one of the three such facility in the country, with a capacity of handling 8 million tonnes. The Chennai port’s share of Iron ore export from India is 12%. The dedicated facility for oil led to the development of oil refinery in the hinterland. This oil terminal is capable of handling Suezmax vessels.
In 1983, the port heralded the country’s first dedicated container terminal facility commissioned by the then prime minister Smt.Indira Gandhi on 18th December 1983. The Port privatized this terminal and is operated by Chennai Container Terminal Private Limited. Having the capability of handling fourth generation vessels, the terminal is ranked in the top 100 container ports in the world. Witnessing a phenomenal growth in container handling year after year the port is added with the Second Container Terminal with a capacity to handle 1.5 M TEUs to meet the demand. To cater to the latest generation of vessels and to exploit the steep increase in containerized cargo the port is planning to welcome the future with a Mega Container Terminal, capable of handling 5 Million TEUs expected to be operational from 2013.
The Chennai port is one among the major ports having Terminal Shunting Yard and running their own Railway operations inside the harbour on the East Coast. The port is having railway lines running up to 68 kms and handles 25% of the total volume of the cargo, 4360 rakes (239412 wagons) during 2009-10.
The port with three Docks, 24 berths and draft ranging from 12m to 16.5m has become a hub port for Containers, Cars and Project Cargo in the East Coast. The port has handled an all time high of 61.06 Million tonnes of cargo registering an increase of 6.2% over previous year. An increase of 10.14% in handling of cars from 273917 Units in the year 2009-10 when compared with 248697 Units in the year 2008-09 and an increase of 6.39% in handling of containers from 1143373 TEUs in the year 2008-09 to 1216438 TEUs in the year 2009-10. The long term plan for Chennai Port envisages that the Port will mainly handle 4C’s i.e. Containers, Cars, Cruise and Clean Cargo.