Covering a majority of the Indian subcontinent, India is an Asian country with many major and intermediate ports. The central government handles the former, while the latter comes under the state government’s jurisdiction.
It is surrounded by water on three sides and is flanked by the Bay of Bengal on its east coast, the Arabian Sea to the West, and the Indian Ocean to the South.
It has a coastline of over 7,000 kilometres and is one of the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). The primary ports in India are 13 major harbours that are well connected and have state-of-the-art facilities.
Most ports in India are wholly government-owned, under the Ministry of Ports, Shipping, and Waterways. Private organisations may operate individual terminals and facilities in coastal states.
A large portion of the terminals in India is operated by companies such as DP World (including the former P&O), AP Moller Terminals, and PSA International. Reliance Industries and the Adani Group own a few private ports.
As it lies on the Indian Ocean, these ports service vessels inbound from the Middle East, Europe, and Africa to the West. The main ships from the East sail from South East Asia, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
A large portion of incoming trade from the East is oil, inbound from Iran and the Middle East. Agricultural produce, fertilisers, natural ores and minerals, automobiles, textiles, and foodstuff are the primary goods that pass through Indian ports. There are also several naval bases operated under the individual Indian Naval Commands.
Given its vast maritime importance, Indian ports have played a major role in the growth and development of the nation. In this article, we look at the 10 major ports of India.
The ports’ UN/LOCODE, region and state, gross cargo tonnage, and gross TEU traffic are also mentioned. The Locode begins with the prefix IN- (for India), indicating a port located within the territorial waters of India.
1. Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust – Nhava Sheva (JNPT)
Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra
Gross Cargo Tonnage (2019-20): 68.5 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2018-19): 5.15 million units
Known as Nhava Sheva, JNPT is the largest container port in India and one of the most essential subcontinents harbours on the Western coast. The name comes from the two erstwhile villages that thrived on the shores of Thane Creek, where JNPT now stands.
Opened in 1989, it processes nearly 55% of container cargo passing through India. It has consistently crossed 4 million TEUs annually and aims to reach the 10 million mark by 2021.
The major exports through JNPT include textiles, machinery, meat, chemicals, and pharma products. Plastics, machinery, vegetable oils, aluminium, and non-ferrous metals are the imports here.
JNPT is ranked 28th amongst the world’s top container ports. The facilities include a customs house, connection to over 50 Inland Container Depots (ICDs), and 30 Container Freight Stations (CFS).
There is also an ongoing project of adding JNPT to the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (W-DFC) to increase road and rail connectivity. Construction of a Multimodal Logistics Park (MMLP) is also underway. JNPT operates a satellite port at Vadhvan Point to ease traffic from the main harbour.
At present, the port operates several container terminals. The JNPT Container Terminal is owned by JNPT and has 680 meters of quay spread across three berths.
Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal (NSICT) is run by DP World and was the first privately managed terminal in India. It has 600 meters of quay over two berths and a capacity of 62 million tons of cargo.
The Gateway Terminals India (GTI), run by AP Moller Terminals, can handle 1.3 million TEU and was opened in 2006. Lastly, the NSIGT terminal operated by PSA Singapore is currently under construction and will have 2 kilometres of the quay, a capacity of 12.5 million tons of cargo, and 4.8 million TEUs.
2. Port of Mundra
Gross cargo tonnage (2019-20): 139 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2016-17): 3.48 million units
As the largest private port in India, Mundra is a major hub for containers and bulk cargo. It is run by Adani Ports and SEZ Limited (APSEZ) and began operations in 2001.
It is well connected to the major hubs in India. The Mundra-Adipur railway line and the 8A Extn National Highway provide road and rail connectivity.
Mundra Airport is undergoing major developments to convert it into an international airport for air cargo. Currently, the port can handle 5 million TEUs and 338 million metric tons of cargo.
The port operates 10 berths for dry bulk, 3 for liquid bulk, 6 container berths, 3 mechanised import berths, and 2 for SPM crude oil imports.
The Mundra Port Coal Terminal (MPCT) is the largest coal import terminal in the world and can process over 40 million tons of coal annually. The port also handles 3 major pipelines- IOCL Panipat, the Bathinda refinery line, and the National Capital Region (NCR) line. There is on-site storage for agricultural goods, machinery, coal, and other industrial goods.
There are dedicated facilities for handling products, such as wheat bagging units, coal processing stations, 97 holding tanks for liquid cargo, and a steel handling yard.
The major shipments passing through here include fertilisers, agricultural produce, liquid bulk, crude oil, chemicals, edible oil, coal, automobiles, project cargo and minerals. There are dedicated facilities for general cargo, such as 16 mobile harbour cranes, 7 grab ship unloaders, payloaders, excavators, conveyor belt systems etc. The container terminals have 9 dock lines, over 2 kilometres of the quay, 18 rail-mounted cranes, and 48 gantry cranes.
3. Port of Chennai
Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Gross cargo tonnage (2019-20): 51.8 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2018-19): 1.62 million units
The erstwhile Madras Port is the largest port on the Bay of Bengal coastline. Chennai port is the third oldest port in India. Operational since 1881, the port has been a driving force behind trade and commerce in the region and is known as the “Gateway of South India”. It is directly linked to over 50 ports, has ISPS and ISO 14001:2004 certifications, and is ranked 86th worldwide in TEU handling. The Chennai Port Trust manages it.
As an artificial seaport on a coastal breakwater, the harbour covers nearly four sq. kilometres. The main shipments are automobiles, motorcycles, general industrial cargo, iron ore, granite, coal, fertilisers, petroleum products, and agricultural produce. Iron, leather, cotton, textiles, and automobiles are significant exports.
The major imports are wheat, raw cotton, machinery, iron, and steel. This port handles over 50 million tons of cargo, and expansion is underway to increase the capacity to 140 million tons. The existing container handling capacity is 2 million TEUs. Automobiles are a major shipment here, and the port saw an exponential increase to over 0.3 million units in 2018-19.
The port is classified into the North, Central, and South zones that have 26 berths. The dock is divided into the Ambedkar Dock with 12 berths, the Satabt Jawahar Dock with 6 berths, the Bharati Dock with 3 oil and iron berths, and the container terminal with 3 berths, and the single mooring berth.
The Jawahar berths also have attached sheds for transit, while the CT-1 and CT-22 container berths have container freight stations (CFS). The Bharati Dock can process Suezmax and Post-Panamax vessels. The container terminals are run by DP World and PSA International and services shipping lines including APL, Maersk, and NYK. There is also a cruise terminal within the port, the first in India, and it is currently under expansion work.
4. Port of Kolkata – Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port Trust (KoPT)
Kolkata, West Bengal
Gross cargo tonnage (2018-19): 63.71 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2018-19): 0.83 million units
One of the largest riverine ports in India, Kolkata port is located 200 kilometres inland and is the oldest port in operation. It is a homogenous freshwater port that is located on the river Hooghly. The port services most of Northern and Eastern India and even neighbouring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and the Autonomous Region of Tibet. It has been used since the early 16th century and receives a sizeable portion of shipments to the North-Eastern states. Jute is an important export commodity of this port, along with copper, textiles, iron ores and liquid chemicals.
The port is divided into the Kolkata Dock System (KDS) and the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC). The KDS lies on the left bank and is manned by the Gasper and Saugor pilotage stations. The Kidderpore docks run 18 berths and 3 dry docks, the Netaji Subhas docks run 10 berths and 2 dry docks, and the Budge Budge dock has 6 wharves for petroleum, and the main anchorages are at Diamond Harbor, Saugor Road, and the Sandheads. In addition, there are over 80 jetties and docks for ship breaking.
The HDC is 60 kilometres from the pilotage stations and consists of an impounded dock system with 12 berths, 3 riverine jetties for oil, 3 for barges, jetties for oil handling barges, and the Haldia Anchorage for Lighter Aboard Ship (LASH) vessels.
The dry docks at KoPT are the largest in India and can handle smaller ship construction and repairs for most vessels. Due to the location, pilotage is required for ships over 200 GT. There are also lighthouses, light vessels, semaphores (for tide levelling), and other mechanisms to guide incoming vessels.
5. V. O. Chidambaranar Port (VOCP)
Tuticorin (Thoothukudi), Tamil Nadu
Gross cargo tonnage (2019-20): 36 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2019-20): 0.8 million units
Known as the Tuticorin Port, VOCP is a major seaport in India, located to the South of the mainland. It is classified as a medium artificial harbour spanning nearly 8 sq kilometres. Operated by the VOCP Trust, it is the 4th largest container terminal in India and the second in the state. This port services vessels from China, Europe, Sri Lanka, the Mediterranean, and the USA. It is certified ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 14001:2004 and is ISPS Compliant.
The main shipments include industrial raw materials and agricultural produce. The primary imports are coal, cement, fertilisers, phosphate, petroleum and derivatives, coke, and edible oils. The main exports are general cargo, raw ore and minerals, building materials, sugar, liquid cargo, granite, and limonite. Due to its location near the Coromandel Coast in the Gulf of Mannar, it is naturally sheltered. The 2 breakwaters span over 7 kilometres and are spaced 1.3 kilometres apart.
There are 14 berths, of which PSA International manages the container berth. There are extensive storage spaces within the port and a cruise terminal nearby for passengers. This port handles over 7% of gross container traffic to India and is currently under a USD 1 billion expansion project. The existing inner harbour will also be expanded to form an outer harbour. There is also a proposal to set up a naval base under the Eastern Naval Command.
6. Port of Kandla (Deendayal Port Trust)
Gross cargo tonnage (2019-20): 122.5 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2017-18): 0.17 million units
It was established in the 1950s and is managed by Deendayal Port Trust. Kandla is located near Gandhidham, near Kandla Creek, on the Gulf of Kutch and protected by a natural harbour. It is a major seaport in India and lies close to Karachi Port in Pakistan. It is currently expanding to improve the existing facilities. One of the largest imports in the region is petroleum and refined products. The primary source to Kandla is Essar Oil which supplies the Vadinar Refinery. This accounts for over 50% of the traffic through Kandla.
An additional 4 berths are being built to accommodate ships of larger drafts and tonnage. There is a dedicated container terminal that handles lesser traffic compared to other Indian ports.
An adjacent Kandla Special Economic Zone (KASEZ) was the first SEZ built in Asia. It was the first export processing zone and is situated 9 kilometres from the port. It spans over 1.2 sq kilometres and is a global and Indian companies hub.
The major exports from this port are salt, textiles, grain, and oil. The major imports are petroleum, chemicals, iron, steel, and machinery. Efforts are underway to improve the surrounding area, despite the isolation of Kandla.
7. Port of Mumbai
Gross cargo tonnage (2017-18): 62.9 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2017-18): 0.04 million units
Known as the erstwhile Bombay Port Trust (BPT), Mumbai harbour is a major port in India. It is a natural deep-water seaport operated by the MbPT and spans 400 sq kilometres. It is situated on the Arabian Sea and was opened by the British in the late 17th century. Its hinterland includes Central, Southern, and West India. MbPT primarily handles bulk and general cargo, while the neighbouring Nhava Sheva port deals in container traffic. Nhava Sheva was initially opened to ease the traffic from Mumbai Port but has gradually overtaken it.
This port maintains several docks with numerous berths and wharves. The Victoria and Prince Docks operate 20 berths and are semi-tidal. The Indira Dock has 21 berths and uses a lock to allow vessels to dock at all times.
There are also jetties on Jawahar Dweep to service crude and petroleum vessels inbound from the Middle East, Iran, and other nations. Liquid cargo such as chemicals is processed from the Pirpau jetty. There is also a passenger terminal at Ballard Pier Extn. A pilot is required for any vessel over 100 tons gross deadweight.
8. Port of Vishakapatnam
Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh
Gross cargo tonnage (2019-20): 72.72 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2019-20): 0.43 million units
Visakhapatnam port is the largest harbour in Andhra Pradesh. It is ranked 3rd in cargo volume and is close to the ports of Chennai and Kolkata. Under the Vishakapatnam Port Trust (VPT), the port currently operates 24 berths. It primarily services the hinterlands of Central and South India. The main goods include iron ore, manganese nodules, steel products, general cargo, coal, crude oil, and other petroleum derivatives.
The external dock has six berths and is the largest dock. The smaller internal dock has 18 berths capable of handling Panamax ships. The maximum anchorage draft is 17 meters across the harbours.
Despite being prone to seasonal cyclones, the port is naturally protected by surrounding low-lying hills. A nearby harbour- the Gangavaram Port- shares cargo traffic with Vizag Port.
The Indian Steel Federation, known as the RINL, has begun operations out of Vizag. The port is expanding to include coal and steel handling equipment. There are dredging operations currently underway to handle larger tonnage ships. There is also a proposal to operate a satellite port at Bhimili.
9. Port of Cochin
Gross cargo tonnage (2018-19): 32.02 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2018-19): 0.6 million units
Kochi port lies on the Arabian Sea coast and experiences traffic from vessels on the Indian Ocean route. The port itself is built over 2 neighbouring islands- Willingdon and Vallarpadam. It is managed by the Cochin Port Trust (CoPT) and has been operational since 1928. The port is close to other maritime facilities in Kochi, namely the Cochin shipyards, Kochi Refineries SPM, the Kochi Marina, and the offshore crude carrier mooring facility.
The International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT) is the largest container facility in India, and the port has an average of over 1,500 vessel visits annually. The inlet to the port is through the Cochin Gut between Vypeen and Fort Kochi. The inlet depth is 16 meters post dredging and can accommodate ICTT inbound vessels.
Pilotage is also provided for incoming vessels. The port supplies regions of Southern India and is well connected by rail (Indian Railways), road (National and State Highways by NHAI), and air (the nearby Kochi International Airport). There is also a naval base close to the port.
10. Port of Hazira
Gross cargo tonnage (2019-20): 25.4 million metric tons
TEU Traffic (2018-19): 0.57 million units
Known as Surat Port, the Adani Hazira Port is a vital LNG and petroleum harbour on the Western coast of India, close to the city of Surat. It is managed and operated by Adani Hazira Port Private Limited (AHPPL). It is built to handle cargo, including bulk, breakbulk, bulk liquids, chemicals, petroleum, edible oils, containers, automobiles, and crude oil. It is a highly developed port under the Adani group that operates as a multimodal hub. It deals with vessels from Europe, Africa, America, and the Middle East.
The port lies close to the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Zone and is also close to the Mumbai and Nhava Sheva Ports. Two of the major goods through Hazira are coal and petroleum products. Coal is processed by an integrated conveyor system that mechanises the coal handling process. Several industrial companies operate from Hazira, such as Essar, Shell, L&T, ONGC, NTPC, GAIL, and Reliance Industries.
A new container handling terminal operated by PSA International is under construction. The existing facilities can handle 1 million TEUs, while the LNG terminals run by Total SA and Shell Oil can process 2.5 million tons. L&T also operates a small naval shipyard out of Hazira.
Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are other vital ports, such as the New Mangalore Port in Karnataka, Paradip port in Odisha, Ennore port in Chennai, Panambur port in Mangalore and Mormugao port in Goa. The network of these ports makes India a strong nation regarding maritime abilities and transportation of goods, thereby leading to more significant revenue generation and a strong economy.
Apart from cargo ports, there are also pleasure ports. One such is the port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Which is the largest port in India?
Since 1873, Mumbai Port has been the second oldest port in the country. It is also the largest port in the country in terms of size, covering around 46.3 hectares with a pier length of about 8000 kilometres.
2. Which Indian port has a transhipment facility?
Until now, Indian ports do not offer transhipment facilities; however, the Indian government is said to invest 10,000 crores in constructing a transhipment port at the Great Nicobar island, Bay of Bengal.
3. Which Indian state has the most major ports?
Most major states are located on the western coastline of India, in the state of Maharashtra, which boasts 53 ports, followed by Gujarat, which has about 40 harbours, including one of the biggest shipbreaking yards in the world. In the southern region, Tamil Nadu tops the list with 15 ports.
4. Which is the oldest port in India?
Kolkata port is the oldest operating port in India, built by the British. It is the only major riverine port in the country, having two dock systems. In the 19th century, it functioned as the premier port. It was used by the colonial power to ship millions of Indians as indentured labourers to various colonies and transport plantation crops, especially jute and indigo, to Europe.
5. Which is the busiest port in India?
Jawaharlal Nehru Port is the busiest in the country regarding container traffic. It handles over 5 million TEU every year. It is the only Indian port featured in the list of the world’s top 30 ports. It has seen remarkable growth in the last five years owing to its development and technological refurbishment.
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Ajay Menon is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, with an integrated major in Ocean Engineering and Naval Architecture. Besides writing, he balances chess and works out tunes on his keyboard during his free time.