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Executive in Action: Captain Rohit Bhatia, Managing Director, Wade Maritime Consultants

Published Nov 19, 2012 8:48 AM by Wendy Laursen

By Wendy Laursen

India is changing, growing and shifting its weight in anticipation of greater maritime independence as a result of much-needed port and terminal development. The country doesn’t yet have a fully functional transhipment hub, so international container traffic must first call at hubs in Sri Lanka, Singapore or Dubai. Strict cabotage rules restrict subsequent coastal container shipping to Indian-flagged and crewed vessels. Red tape abounds amongst regional jurisdictions.

Many of the older Indian ports are shallow and congested, limiting the country’s growth potential. A vessel can wait outside port for considerable time, and at Chennai it can take trucks a full day to cover the last 10 km of their journey as they enter the port.

But change is underway, and in the midst of it is Captain Rohit Bhatia, Managing Director and Founder of Wade Maritime Consultants. As a specialist with over 25 years of experience in shipping operations, business strategy and maritime economics, he has worked on numerous projects involving operational risk management, loss prevention, benchmarking, strategic investment advice and regulatory compliance.

One of his company’s specialties is business strategy and risk assessment for ports and terminals: “How do we get coastal shipping and the infrastructure for ports and terminals revived in India?” It is a challenge that Bhatia works through with individual clients and also as part of industry-wide initiatives. Clients include AET Shipmanagement, Maersk Tankers, MPN, Reliance Industries, Mundra & JNPT Port, MISC Berhad and others.

Traditionally, the largest ports have been on the west coast, but they are up to six days farther away than the east coast from China, Japan and Singapore, where much of India’s construction and consumer goods are coming from. India’s ‘Look East Policy’ will help grow east coast volumes exponentially with many eastern ports projecting double-digit growth rates. Bhatia is working on business strategies with a number of developers there.

Building the Infrastructure

“Infrastructure is the biggest hurdle to the growth story in India. Whatever the demand is for trade, if the infrastructure is not to the required level or there is a need for investment in it, then everything falls flat. And that’s what has been happening in the last few years, particularly with the government not taking policy decisions to get the right investment.”

The biggest push for the eastern ports is going to be commodities – the export of iron ore and the import of coal for utilities because most of the mining areas in India are on the eastern side, explains Bhatia. However, container trade will be important too. Industrialization is growing as a result of companies such as Nissan and Toyota setting up manufacturing plants, mainly on the east coast. A lot of the associated cargoes are containerized, and this raises the need for more accessibility to coastal shipping.

A hub port is being built at Vallarpadam, Cochin, so that it is India, rather than neighboring countries, that will benefit from the transhipment volume growth. Bhatia is working with shipping companies and other stakeholders to determine the best strategy for building up India’s coastal shipping industry to support hub ports. Financial incentives and a relaxation of cabotage rules for trans-shipment are likely.

Wade Maritime Consultants has added more associates in the UK, who are highly experienced in the port and terminal advisory business. “They are now part of our team, so we have a very strong and experienced group for consulting in ports and terminals, whether it is feasibility studies, benchmarking, due diligence, business strategy or training.”

On the legal side, Bhatia has recently established the Indian Maritime Arbitration Association, modelled on the UK equivalent and offering both international and Indian arbitration at around a third of the price of overseas options. The organization will also allow more modest disputes to be resolved without the need for those involved to travel to London.

Bhatia used his at-sea experience to initially offer technical and operational management services. He continues to do so, but the company has grown and shifted focus to match India’s changing business environment. “We have our four verticals well established now that allow us to service any maritime-related organization – shipowner/manager, charterer, trader, shipper, port or terminal. They can come to us for business strategy and design, risk management, training or legal services. The growth of the maritime industry here in India will certainly increase our country’s visibility and importance to global trade.” – MarEx

Wendy Laursen can be reached at [email protected] for comments.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.