Photo: Vizhinjam Port

The heightened terminal capacity pressure at Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port, amid volume spikes from the Red Sea crisis-linked diversions, is prompting container lines to explore other viable hub options in the subcontinent region.

According to industry sources, Maersk has devised a network revamp plan to shift some of its transhipment calls for Indian cargo usually moving via Colombo, to Vizhinjam Port, a new southern India harbour set to begin operations soon.

Vizhinjam is an Adani Group-led greenfield terminal development, stamping India’s hub ambitions as the economy expands.

The Danish carrier is “testing the Vizhinjam waters”, in preparation for a wider switchover, with a trial call by the 8,700 teu San Fernando on Thursday at the new deepwater terminal, according to AIS data.

Until last month, the vessel was deployed on Maersk’s Asia-Southern Africa Safari service, according to the eeSea liner data platform.

“For now, it’s a one-off call, but there is a high likelihood that it will become a regular port call,” one source involved in the Vizhinjam project said.

According to Maersk’s declared itinerary for the vessel, the call at Vizhinjam will be followed by calls at Colombo, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Salalah, Dubai, Damman, Jubail and Dubai.

“The ship is said to be carrying between 1,000 to 1,500 containers, underscoring the seaport’s capacity to handle large-scale shipments and its potential as a major transhipment hub in the region,” the Vizhinjam port authority said.

Sources expect the incoming containers – mostly destined for Kolkata – to be transported on feeders for intra-country distribution.

According to local Maersk sources, Colombo has become saturated with boxes, and the carrier is striving to provide an alternative to keep transhipment cargo for Indian customers flowing.

Given that aim, it is generally believed that Vizhinjam has the potential to feature as an alternative port call to Colombo on many routings taking shape under the Gemini framework Maersk is developing with Hapag-Lloyd. A call at Colombo under the proposed FM1 service potentially being replaced by Vizhinjam, with an announcement expected in September.

The much-hyped “allures” for Vizhinjam essentially stem from two factors: 20-metre draught availability to berth ultra-large container vessels with capacity of up to 24,000 teu; and its proximity to the busy east-west international shipping axis, about 175 nautical miles from Colombo.

Phase 1 has been designed with 1m teu capacity, aided by 800 metres of quay and some 52 ha of container yard. Most of the harbour cranes, on the designed plan, are also in place.

“Vizhinjam has a good value proposition, as large mainline carriers consider end-to-end shipping a core part of their network strategies,” a Mumbai-based container industry observer told The Loadstar.

“But Maersk could continue to use Colombo for non-Indian transhipment loads, particularly Bangladesh,” the source added.

MSC and Hapag-Lloyd are the other major liner players known to have had provisional talks with Vizhinjam stakeholders to explore service opportunities.

MSC’s terminal partnerships with Adani ports at Mundra and Ennore (South India) have already sparked speculation about another joint-venture deal at Vizhinjam.

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