One of the major considerations while planning for green field projects not only in the power and the steel sector, but any other sector too, is their proximity to ports. This is because the bulk of raw materials arrive by sea, just as major exports take place by sea. Any new mine development for instance has to consider this major aspect as a part of the techno-economic feasibility of the project.
Some other major factors to be considered are:
• Inland access to the sea front (rail, inland river transport)
• Distance from the shore to the point at which sufficient depth is available which will allow deep drafted vessels to arrive and depart
• Bathymetry of the sea
• Weather conditions prevailing in the area
• Environmental constrains – (including endangering any flora & fauna)
While evaluating these criteria it needs to be seen if there is an existing port available in the vicinity and it has sufficient spare capacity to cater to this requirement, otherwise the project is left to fend for itself. The project leaders will either be forced to develop new ports (which remain captive in nature, hence do not generate revenue to cover for the development and construction cost), or will have to be content with small (minor) ports with limited facilities thereby limiting their ability to import or export in large and deep drafted vessels. It goes without saying that relying on vessels with smaller draft only results in higher freight costs, which diminishes the competitiveness of the project.
Development of large ports also calls for huge capital investments and is time consuming. With growing importance being given to environmental factors, most of the large ports projects have to struggle hard to get environmental clearance because of the ecological disturbance created by large scale dredging and civil works. Secondly, the cargo to be moved by the ports is sometimes not substantial to justify such large investment.
So does it mean that the project needs to suffer given the above restraints? No, a via media needs to be found. A small scale port development i.e. construction of a jetty with draft and facilities sufficient to load or unload barges, combined with an offshore transshipment facility, which has the ability to adequately handle all kinds of vessels, is the answer to the problem. The offshore transshipment facility should have the following characteristics:
• Ability to operate in adverse weather conditions
• Should be capable of direct transfer of cargo to or from the barges
• Should have a handling rate which is comparable, if not equal to, fixed port infrastructure
• Should have a floating storage so that the loading or unloading operations do not get hampered during the times of barges change over or non availability
• The handling freight should be lesser than the freight difference between the freight of small geared vessels and that of gearless and large vessels
Transshipment facilities have been developed by various companies and the most common one which comes to mind is the floating crane. Floating cranes have been employed in the past, when the vessels sizes used to be relatively small and the vessel turn around time did not assume too much significance.
They are able to perform alongside shore, (or offshore under calm weather conditions) and at a handling rate which is relatively slow. This is primarily due to the inherent drawback of the system, that requires the cranes to rotate a full 180 degrees in order to transfer cargo from the vessels to the barges or vice versa. With
the kind of freight market existing today, any time lost because of slow performing devices like floating cranes, immediately enhances the freight component of the landed cost of the cargo.