Chennai set to retrace old Myanmar business route

CHENNAI: The Union shipping ministry is likely to launch a cargo ferry service soon between Chennai and Yangon (Myanmar).

Official sources said the service will open a sea route to largely land-based trade that is already worth billions of dollars. For Tamil Nadu, however, the opening of a sea route will re-establish economic ties that used to be STRONG decades back, before the military takeover. Nostalgic old-timers in the state may recall the strong Tamil trader contingent in Myanmar that had to return due to the deteriorating political situation in the nation. The service will likely start from Colombo on September 28. Shipping Corporation of India will be deploying Kamal, a 1,200 TEU (twenty feet equivalent unit) vessel, whose ports of call will include Colombo, Chennai, Krishnapatnam and Yangon.

Shipping ministry officials said the container ship service has the support of the ministry of external affairs and the ministry of commerce.

“This is a dedicated standalone service catering to the trade requirements of the east and west coast of India to Myanmar. Colombo will help to link with SCI’s long haul services to the far east, UK and the middle east,” a ministry official said.

The shipping ministry is projecting the Chennai-Yangon ferry service as one of its achievements in the first 100 days of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.

Departing Colombo on September 28, the ship will reach Chennai port on October 1 and Krishnapatnam a few days later. The ship will reach Yangon on October 7 and will be back in Colombo on October 12.

Shipping Corporation officials said that with the commencement of this service the transit time for imports and exports from Yangon will be substantially reduced.

Officials in the port trust of Chennai also confirmed that they have received communication from the shipping ministry regarding the launch of new ferry service from Chennai. “There will be an official function in Chennai port to launch the service,” a senior official in the port trust said. The Chennai-Yangon cargo ferry service may be an achievement for the 100day Modi government, but for Tamils it rekindles economic ties that used to be strong decades back.

Recalling Tamil presence in Myanmar, writer Periyayya said Tamils were involved in finance and agriculture in the Irrawaddy delta. “A series of anti-Indian riots beginning in 1930 and mass emigration during the Japanese occupation of Myanmar followed by the forced expulsion of 1962 left ethnic Indians with little role in that nation,” he said.

After World War I, anti-Indian sentiment began to rise for a number of reasons. Indians played a prominent role in the British administration and became the target of Burmese nationalists. “After the huge hike in the price of rice in 1930s, Tamil moneylenders began to foreclose loans taken by Burmese by taking possession of their land. All this created resentment toward Tamils,” said Periyayya.

Advocate Valliammal Kannadasan, whose ancestors lived in Myanmar, said that rice and teak wood used to be the chief imports from that country. “Rice is the most important foodgrain in Myanmar (Myanmar). Much of the nation’s rice came from the Irrawaddy River Delta,” she said, adding that regular ferry services to Myanmar operated till 1965.

Myanmar teak still resonates with Tamils and timber may therefore be a key import from that nation this time around too.

Peanuts, chillies, pepper, besides textiles and timber will also be exported, said exporter K T Rajan. Cement is another commodity that exporters are eyeing. “We currently ship small quantities of cement to Myanmar from Tuticorin. The returns are not high, but we are seeding that market,” an official at India Cements Ltd said.

Cement companies such as Ramco Cements, Chettinad Cements and Bharti Cements now ship bags of cement in containers from Tuticorin to Myanmar via Singapore. But there are no regular services – called liner services in shipping terminology – between India and Myanmar. As a result, ships ply between the two countries only when their cargo holds are full. But the Shipping Corporation of India vessel Kamal will change all that. As per an expert’s estimation, trade between India and Myanmar has the potential to touch $8.9 billion by 2015, an almost five-fold increase from $1.87 billion in 2012. Regular calls by the SCI ship Kamal will help to carry 36,000 TEU (twenty foot equivalent) containers each way in one year, an SCI official said.

“Though not many goods may be traded in the Colombo-Chennai sector, the Chennai-Yangon ferry will be an attractive business proposition for us,” said S Rethinavelu, former president, Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce.


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