India’s Blue Economy – An Ocean Of Opportunities

On the 2nd of March 2021, the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi inaugurated the Maritime India Summit-2021 virtually, which ranks as one of the world’s biggest virtual summits with the participation of a mind-boggling 0.17 million participants from 100 nations.

I quote his clarion call to the world maritime community –“India’s long coastline awaits you. India’s hardworking people await you. Invest in our ports. Invest in our people. Let India be your preferred trade destination. Let Indian ports be your port of call for trade and commerce.” Outstanding ain’t it?

No other government has been as assertive as the present dispensation when it comes to planning India’s roadmap for the nation’s big leap into the highly competitive global “Blue Economy”, which is valued at a staggering US$1.5 trillion per year.

Prime Minister Modi has chosen a trusted lieutenant – Shri Sarbananda Sonowal to be the Minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways as India gets ready to dive big-time into the global maritime landscape.

India’s Blue Economy – An Ocean Of Opportunities

Being a native of Assam, I have seen firsthand, the meteoric rise of Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, who hails from the quaint Upper Assam town of Dibrugarh – from a student politician to the Chief Minister of India’s North-Eastern state of Assam – a position he held with great dignity from 24 May 2016 to 9th May 2021.

What is so special about Mr.Sonowal? Well, the fact that he is a native Assamese and having been exposed to the vagaries of the turbulent Brahmaputra River since his childhood; coupled with the fact that he hails from Majuli – world’s largest river island, located bang in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra river, has taught him maritime lessons on management of waterways. After all, taming the Brahmaputra river is no mean task, with scientists working round the clock to stop the river’s rapidly shifting tendencies!

Thus, it is in the fitness of things that India’s Shipping industry is now blessed with a man who is knowledgeable in matters pertaining to maritime infrastructure, development of coastal tourism circuits, and the overall global maritime scenario.

The Ministry of Port, Shipping, and Waterways has already identified 400 maritime projects for accelerated development and as many as 189 lighthouses spread across India’s long coastline have been identified as prospective Maritime Tourist hubs.

The other day, I was flipping through the pioneering works of Mukul G. Asher, Professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore wherein he opines, rather pragmatically about India’s Blue Economy growth prospects. He is of the view that much of India’s Blue Economy plans are in sync with the country’s ACT EAST Policy and offer great opportunities for co-operation with countries like Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia that are much more versatile in terms of proficiency.

India’s Blue Economy – An Ocean Of Opportunities

Professor Asher opines that –“India’s Blue Economy initiatives are expected to help in generating new growth nodes, help lessen regional imbalances, provide sustainable productive livelihoods, help address nutritional deficiencies, and facilitate managing climate change”.
India Inc. expects a rapid surge in terms of both the numbers and volume of investments in the nation’s maritime landscape and to achieve the targeted goals on time, the Shipping Ministry, as well as the Ministry of Tourism, have been working in tandem towards the development of maritime tourism projects.

As a Travel Journalist, I believe this is the right time for foreign ship and yacht builders to make their presence felt in India’s maritime sector. If Indian maritime statistics are anything to go by, It is estimated that the cruise tourism market in India is likely to attract 1.2 million tourists by the year 2030.

It is time for the big players of the shipping world like Lurssen, Azimut, Feretti, Hessen, Meyer Werft, Oceanco, etc… explore India’s maritime landscape and offer not just cutting edge shipbuilding technology, but also be partners in the development of ports and cruise tourism infrastructure.

The government of India has already approved a dedicated policy on Cruise Tourism which is inclusive of Infrastructure and facilities development, improvement of procedures like immigration, Customs, and CISF, use of technology and systems such as RFID, Advance Passenger Information Systems (APIS), and PCS as well as fiscal incentives.

India’s Blue Economy – An Ocean Of Opportunities

An exclusive Task Force has been formed under the co-chairmanship of the Secretary, Ministry of Shipping to facilitate cruise tourism in India. This Task Force is working in full steam towards the overall improvement of Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) for cruise terminal operations and the port at Cochin has been identified as the pilot project. Soon enough, the ports at Goa, Mumbai, and Chennai will be brought under the ambit of the Task Force.

Geographically, India is ideally placed between western Europe and Asia. Needless to say, every ship bound for Europe has to pass through India, and herein lies the opportunity. Prime Minister Modi has given his nod for a thorough overhauling of the nation’s maritime landscape by way of an integrated waterway policy, which lays emphasis on not just port infrastructure, but inclusive of riverfront development, and increasing phenomenally the number of cruise ships in Indian waters from a minuscule 150 vessels to a staggering 1000.

The stupendous dimension of India’s maritime tourism potential is best summed up by Sanjay Basu, Chairman, Adventure Resorts & Cruises thus – “India can develop more than 100 new destinations around the coastline if the government sets up right infrastructure and last-mile connectivity from the water to the land. India has the potential to add at least 2,000 cruise ships in the rivers and 5,000 ships on the coasts, that can unlock the economies of remote places in India and offer livelihood opportunities for remote communities, who currently depend on fishing and farming”. That is how big the Indian maritime sector really is!

Within the maritime cruise industry, there is this industry body called Superyacht Life a non-profit organization, and they are of the opinion that the Superyacht industry alone was worth €24 billion in 2010, out of which €13.76 billion of this was direct contribution while €10.24 billion was indirect. Now that the numbers have increased significantly, the present annual contribution of Superyachts to the global economy is estimated to be greater than €30 billion.

India’s Blue Economy – An Ocean Of Opportunities

Once world-class maritime infrastructures are in place, India can aspire to be a hub for superyachts. Being the fastest-growing economies in the world, it is also the world’s sixth-largest economy in terms of GDP.

A lot of people have divergent views on Superyachts and that is mostly due to the staggering costs involved in building superyachts. However, with Prime Minister Modi at the helm and his signature “Atmannirbhar Bharat” agenda which literally translates into “Self Reliant India” gaining in momentum, the Ministry of Shipping to has in recent times reviewed the licensing conditions for chartering of shipping vessels through a tender process that would cater to all types of requirements.

India’s Minister of Shipping – Shri Sarbananda Sonowal is all set to promote Indian-origin shipping vessels that are built, flagged, and owned by Indians. In a recent press conference, India’s Shipping Minister bared his heart out to the media about his one-pointed agenda of transforming India’s maritime sector to become self-sufficient under the “Atmannirbhar Bharat” scheme.

These days, in India, collaboration with Indian industrialists is a common phenomenon wherein MNCs from abroad invest in Indian industry; that could ultimately translate into the sale of technology, spare parts, and use of foreign brand names, etc…

The government of India’s drive to fast-track investments in the shipping sector has been welcomed by the industry bigwigs and to further compliment this mission a host of industry-friendly policies have been introduced – modernising port infrastructure, promotion of green energy, cutting edge IT backup, and upgrading the skill sets of the employees to sustain the operations of this magnitude. Industry stalwarts consider the “Sagarmala Project” (literally meaning – string of ports), to be one of the best initiatives ever undertaken by the Government of India.

On successful completion, the Sagarmala Project would lead to direct employment of four million and six million indirect jobs. As of date, projects worth USD 15 billion are under various stages of implementation.

India’s Blue Economy – An Ocean Of Opportunities

”nicely sums up the upbeat mood of Maritime India thus – “There are many factors conducive to the development of a robust and sustainable maritime sector. Finally, it will depend on how the different stakeholders utilize the opportunities presented to them to transform the sector into an engine of growth for India. Therefore, while 2016 was viewed as the year for enabling the maritime sector’s transformation, it seems India is on the cusp of major maritime revolution which will play out over the next couple of years”.

Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls-Royce, India & South Asia in his insightful article on Forbes India entitled “Indian maritime sector—on the cusp of revolution

The theatre is ready and the world will watch with bated breath as the Great Indian Shipping Dream unfolds!

Images: Subhasish Chakraborty

Subhasish Chakraborty

Travel Journalist

Subhasish Chakraborty has been working as a Travel Journalist for the past two decades and has been editorially involved with numerous international In-Flight magazines of renowned airlines like Cathy Pacific, Dragon Air, Bhutan Airlines, Air Asia, Airport Authority of India and many more. He was also involved with the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) as a Consultant.