Cyclone warning halts port operations in Chennai

NEW DELHI Tue Oct 30, 2012 7:41pm IST

1 of 2. A man carrying his child tries to hold an umbrella at Marina beach in Chennai October 30, 2012.

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Chennai port on the southeast coast has stopped cargo operations after a cyclone warning, a port official said on Tuesday.

"Only cargo operations have stopped, not berthing," said the official, who requested anonymity.

The port handles about 10 percent of traffic passing through India's major ports, covering a variety of cargoes including crude oil, petroleum products and agricultural commodities.

The Indian Meteorological Department said cyclonic storm Nilam was about 450 kilometres south-southeast of Chennai at 1430 local time (0900 GMT). The IMD said the system was expected to move north-northwest and cross the coast near Chennai by the evening of October 31.

The port official said so far two of the 10 vessels waiting for loading or discharge of cargoes have been moved outside to ensure the port's safety and the others would be moved gradually.

Cargo operations were suspended from about 1330 local time (0800 GMT) and the suspension could continue to Wednesday afternoon or evening, he added.

Krishnapatnam port, which handles around 15 million tonnes of cargo a year including coal, fertilisers and agricultural products, also halted cargo operations, a port official said.

"Just doing this for safety reasons," the official said, adding there were 9 vessels at berth in the port, which is also on the east coast.

Chennai Petroleum Corp Limited's two refineries in the city, which have combined capacity of about 230,000 barrels per day (bpd), were operating normally, its managing director A. S. Basu, told Reuters

The north Indian Ocean usually sees about five cyclones a year, about 5-6 percent of all cyclones, with October-November and May-June seeing the most severe ones.

Chennai handled just over 27 million tonnes of traffic in April-September, according to the Shipping ministry.

The weather office will issue its next bulletin on the storm at 1500 GMT.

(Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Jo Winterbottom)

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