Kulhudhuffushi Regional Port (KRP) initially commenced operations on 5th December 2005, beginning a new chapter in the development of the region. The port served as an important resource in managing domestic, inter-island maritime trade and distribution activities within the North. Located in the north of Maldives, Kulhudhuffushi is one of the biggest and most populous islands in the region. It is also the capital of Haa Dhaal Atoll and as such the economic hub for the atoll and the region as a whole.
With the strategic location of the port in mind, a plan was devised to harness the full potential of the port. The initial steps included an MoU signed between the Ministry of Shipping in India and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in Maldives, followed by a preliminary study by a team from SCI in 2019 on the practical aspects of a cargo ferry service between India and Maldives. This plan came to fruition on September 21, 2020 with the inauguration of the service by Mansukh L. Mandaviya, Minister of State for Shipping (Independent Charge) and Aishath Nahula, Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of the Maldives in a virtual ceremony.
The maiden voyage of the ferry commenced the following day on 22nd September with the departure of the MCP Linz from Tuticorin. It reached the Kulhudhuffushi Port on 26th September, carrying with it approximately 500 tonnes of cargo that was unloaded at the port. Unfortunately the port was a bit small for the vessel to dock and the cargo had to be brought in via brages.
A Hiatus in Utilization
Although the ferry runs between Maldives and India continue on to this day, it is no longer known as the Cochin Ferry and only travels to Kulhudhuffushi port depending on the availability of cargo for the port. This may be in large part that no discernible economic impact was felt by the population of the region overall. Most of the cargo being transported was through import and distribution by STO, such as aggregates, steel, and cement, reducing the market rates for these products. Apart from which, a lack of proper utilization of the ferry from the public didn’t see it have a massive impact on the GDP of the region.
There were a few factors that hindered the maximum utilization of the ferry service. The main problem might have been the lack of known trading agents in India. The expectation was for ship agents to purchase commodities and transport it to the port, which is not how trade relations function normally. They (traders of Thiladhunmathi) didn’t have the right contacts or the knowledge to properly utilize this service.
In hindsight, it would have been a good idea for the stakeholders to conduct programmes to help the public understand the potential of this service, such as conducting seminars to disseminate information on how they could, from a ground-up point of view, use this service for the mutual benefit of the region and traders from India. Multiple online seminars, information sessions and awareness programmes could still build up the potential for this system, and have a positive impact on the people of the atoll and the region.
Another contributing factor may also have been that the port is open anchorage, and vessels cannot berth alongside. Without this facility available, it greatly affects the discharging rates and therefore the operation becomes costly. It is not really feasible for vessel owners to call on the port when the terminal is lacking proper facilities.
The Present Situation
Fast forward to January 2022, Kulhudhuffushi port is being redeveloped by Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC). An agreement was signed between MTCC and Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) on January 27th for the Redevelopment Project during a special ceremony held at the MTCC head office where the agreement was signed on behalf of MPL by the CEO Shahid Ali and the Chief Engineer Adam Mohamed while MTCC was represented by the CEO Adam Azim and the COO, Shahid Hassan Moosa.
The Kulhudhuffushi Regional Port Redevelopment Project will ensure the construction of a dedicated passenger and cargo harbor that caters to larger cargo vessels and which has the capacity to accommodate a long-distance passenger service. This would comprise the dredging of the lagoon, construction of a new harbor, installation of revetment and navigational lights. Additionally, the construction of a new administrative and workshop building is included in the project. The project further incorporates an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be conducted by MTCC. The project is slated to be completed within 496 days and is estimated at approximately 138 million rufiyaa.
Even more recently, a delegation from MPL met with Coastal Mechanised Sailing Vessel Owner’s Association and perishable vessel operators from Tuticorin. The meeting was reportedly held in anticipation of Ramadan, to discuss the common challenges faced in importing goods to the Maldives. Discussions during this meeting were focused on assuring that service lines are not disrupted during the busy season, and there were no reports of talks regarding the utilization of the Tuticorin Ferry system or its revitalisation.