The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily stalled operations in the entire country; however, Visakhapatnam Port, one of the major ports in India, kept the dice rolling and ensured that the wheels of operations continued to meet customers’ requirements. During the initial days of the lockdown, the port faced a few challenges in cargo evacuation; however, with the gradual relaxation of restrictions, commodity movements began to increase at a slow pace. Commodities like chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rice, food products etc., which are essential, had continued to be moved during the lockdown. Now, the overall EXIM traffic handled by the port is well on course to recovery and there are good signs of a return to normality.

While the competition ports witnessed a drop of 11–15 per cent in volumes, Visakhapatnam Port overall experienced a drop of only 4 per cent in the first half of the fiscal year. Iron ore and steel exports were the main saviours, with increased orders to China, despite the geopolitical tension between India and China. The Chinese are believed to be spending on infrastructure projects that require huge amounts of iron ore and steel products, leading to this growth in exports. VPT recorded 32 million MT of EXIM traffic from April to September 2020, compared to 33.5 million MT for the corresponding period last year. Exports from Visakhapatnam Port had an upward trend in FY21 in comparison to the same period last year, growing at a rate of 35 per cent, while imports fell by 25 per cent.

Import volumes grew for commodities like fertilisers, raw materials and LPG, while other commodities, like crude oil, coal etc., fell. The overall cut in production by the metal industries during the lockdown impacted the imports of coking and metallurgical coal. Likewise, ore imports suffered due to cuts in production by the ferroalloy industries, which eventually picked up from June 2020 onwards. Therefore, imports could not match the levels seen in FY20 due to the impact of the lockdowns in various countries, such as China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, USA, etc. Crude oil is primarily imported from Iran, UAE and Turkey, where the effect of COVID-19 was high from January to April; however, the situation in these nations has improved. The consumption of crude oil in India dropped from April until August due to the lockdown, despite the gradual unlocking. Oil imports slowly picked up in September. The table below shows the recovery of imports, which have already reached 80 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

CommodityApr '20Apr '19May '20May '19Jun '20Jun '19Jul '20Jul '19Aug '20Aug '19Sep '20Sep '19
Crude oil 8.67 8.99 7.42 7.98 8.08 8.55 6.15 7.44 5.41 6.52 6.69 5.81
POL 1.19 2.51 0.56 2.74 2.15 5.32 2.47 3.16 1.98 2.43 1.08 2.88
LPG 1.52 1.58 1.49 0.99 1.20 1.06 1.39 1.23 1.62 1.71 1.44 1.47
Coking coal 4.88 5.55 3.95 7.51 3.10 7.95 1.81 9.05 3.36 6.29 6.52 5.91
Steam coal 2.99 11.05 3.09 4.48 4.05 4.11 2.70 6.63 5.17 4.38 2.53 7.38
Fertiliser 1.30 0.00 1.66 2.77 1.10 2.77 2.48 1.67 3.85 1.70 1.09 1.41
Raw materials 0.58 0.07 0.40 0.84 0.75 0.24 1.11 0.30 0.71 0.12 1.02 0.61
Containers 3.40 3.42 2.01 3.90 2.33 3.36 2.56 3.41 2.29 3.94 3.10 3.45
Others 6.11 4.52 4.51 4.79 4.24 6.08 4.22 6.77 4.95 5.61 5.62 5.6
Total 30.64 37.69 25.09 36 27 39.44 24.89 39.66 29.34 32.70 29.09 34.61
  • Imports April–September in Lakh Tonnes
CommodityFY21FY20Growth
Crude oil 42.42 45.29 -6%
POL 9.43 19.04 -50%
LPG 8.66 8.04 8%
Coking coal 23.62 42.26 -44%
Steam coal 20.53 38.03 -46%
Fertiliser 11.48 10.32 11%
Raw materials 4.57 2.18 110%
Containers 15.69 21.48 -27%
Others 29.65 33.46 -11%
Total 166.05 220.1 -25%

As Visakhapatnam Port was operational 24 × 7 during the lockdown, export volumes witnessed significant growth and even surpassed last year’s volumes by a huge margin. Thus, exports were the main growth drivers for the port. In particular, exports of iron ore and thermal coal grew significantly. Thermal coal, which is used in electricity generation, cement manufacturing, steel production etc., was the prime contributor. In contrast, exports of thermal coal were negligible during the same period last year. Thermal coal is largely exported to China, USA, UAE and Saudi Arabia. Exports of iron ore fines and pellets from Visakhapatnam Port increased by 47 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively. With the steel industry returning to normalcy from June, products like iron ore, ferroalloys, scrap, refractories etc. also had an increasing trend. Iron ore is mainly exported to China, USA, UAE and Hong Kong.

The below table and the graphs depict the export trends for the first half of FY21 vs FY20.

  • Imports April– September in Lakh Tonnes
CommodityApr '20Apr '19May '20May '19Jun '20Jun '19Jul '20Jul '19Aug '20Aug '19Sep '20Sep '19
POL 3.30 1.14 3.05 1.02 1.06 1.78 1.13 1.57 1.29 1.34 1.66 1.41
IRON ORE 5.08 5.08 4.94 6.03 5.81 5.50 12.57 7.85 10.51 6.33 11.76 3.64
IRON ORE (PELLETS) 3.01 6.21 6.57 6.76 9.25 4.93 5.91 5.88 7.09 2.35 4.37 5.09
THERMAL COAL 0.39 0.00 1.24 0.00 1.07 0.00 0.97 0.00 0.73 0.00 0.00 0.32
CONTAINERS 2.90 3.38 3.63 3.75 5.02 3.96 4.55 4.52 4.56 3.78 4.70 4.02
OTHERS 3.65 2.16 4.27 2.71 4.14 2.95 5.14 4.09 4.91 2.86 5.40 2.86
Total 18.33 17.97 23.70 20.27 26.35 19.12 30.27 23.91 29.09 16.66 27.89 17.34
  • Exports Apr -Sep In Lakh Tonnes
CommodityFY21FY20Growth
POL 11.49 8.26 39%
IRON ORE 50.67 34.43 47%
IRON ORE (PELLETS) 36.20 31.22 16%
THERMAL COAL 4.40 0.32 1275%
CONTAINERS 25.36 23.41 8%
OTHERS 27.51 17.63 56%
TOTAL155.63115.2735%

Container traffic remained strong through Q2 of 2020 with 15 per cent growth over Q1. Nepal-bound import volumes are consolidating through Vizag, while local imports are also in fast recovery mode. Exports continue to show an uptrend on the back of commodities like ferroalloys, aluminium, steel, seafood, pharmaceuticals and agricultural produce, while chemicals, scrap, refractories, machinery and food products, like pulses and cashews, were the top commodities imported.

The overall development in Vizag and its hinterland is encouraging and warrants an increase in capacity of the existing container terminal. Therefore, the expansion project, which was stalled due to the pandemic, has now recommenced. The first phase of the quay extension is expected to be ready by March 2021. This will add 100 m to the quay, giving a total quay length of 395 m. The backup storage yard and the related infrastructure are being developed simultaneously. The extended facility will have three super post-Panamax cranes and nine RTGCs, which will be deployed for operation during financial year 2021/22.