The Singapore-based company recently filed an application with landlord authority JNPT seeking to reset an originally targeted end-2022 Phase II opening to March 2026 — a delay of more than three years, local port sources told PSA holds a 30-year concession for Bharat Mumbai Container Terminals (BMCT), designed to provide a combined 4.8 million TEU of capacity annually when complete. The first phase began operations in early 2018.

“It is not unreasonable for PSA to push back further capacity additions in a slowing and uncertain market,” an industry observer who did not want to be identified.

Sources said PSA also moved a request to extend the concession term by three years to factor in the anticipated delay after missing a contracted construction deadline of December 2019 for the new phase. This suggests a project rescheduling plan had been creeping up for some time.

“The revised proposal [from PSA] is being examined in detail,” a port source said.

JNPT and PSA Mumbai were unavailable for comment.

BMCT currently sports a berth line of 1,000 meters, a 222-acre storage yard with 9,336 ground slots, four rail-mounted gantry cranes, and 36 rubber-tire gantry cranes. The company’s sophisticated rail yard — capable of servicing 1.5-kilometer double stack trains with capacities of up to 360 TEU — is the bigger draw vis-à-vis its peers in the region.

With the addition of a new intra-Asia routing that debuted last week, PSA Mumbai hosts six weekly sailings at present. The latest entrant is a six-vessel joint operation between Wan Hai Lines, Interasia Lines, Sinokor Merchant Marine, Heung-A Line, and Feedertech.

“With more new services coming to PSA Mumbai in Q1 2021 and more new products to be rolled out, we are looking forward to increasing our role in facilitating India’s maritime trade in 2021,” BMCT managing director Sivakumar Kaliannan said in a statement.

BMCT ‘growth engine’
With ample capacity and infrastructure superiority, BMCT is seen as a “growth engine” for JNPT to fend off privately operated minor competitors, notably the Adani Group-owned Mundra, trying to muscle their way farther into the northern hinterlands. That pressure is already evident as Mundra’s combined throughput in recent months has outpaced JNPT, which in October stood at 519,133 TEU and 423,154 TEU, respectively. But Mundra’s accelerated growth is owed in part to increased transshipment handling by some liners, which has gained more momentum in recent weeks with the spillover effects of congestion plaguing Sri Lanka’s Colombo port.

BMCT saw some 800,000 TEU in fiscal year 2019-2020 and 523,000 TEU during April-November, according to JOC data.

While economic conditions continue to be somewhat topsy-turvy, cargo volumes at the main Indian terminals have rebounded markedly since the sharp setbacks suffered during April-June. But current trends do not signal a “V-shaped” recovery from the downturn, so any significant capacity building arguably merits a deep brainstorming.