Ruias-owned Essar Ports is looking to invest around USD 500 million or over Rs 25 billion to set up one liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal each on the western and eastern coasts in the next 18 months, a top company official said. "Total investment in the first phase could be in the region of about USD 500 million," Rajiv Agarwal, managing director and chief executive of Essar Ports, told the source.
He said the company is looking at a cluster of small ports which will be closer to potential customers, adding that Hazira and Salaya, where it already operates ports, could be the sites where it can set up the LNG terminals. "We are already working on it (LNG terminals) and in the next one to one and half years, we should have something started. One on west coast and one east coast could come within that period," Agarwal said.
Typically, each terminal will cost between USD 150-300 million, depending on the amount of work to be carried out, he said, adding that the capacity will range between 2.5-5 million tonnes. When asked if its existing concession agreements to operate ports allow for adding LNG terminals, he said certain approvals are needed from nodal agencies like the Gujarat Maritime Board. It can be noted that the government is promoting LNG as an alternative fuel to reduce pollution.
On the finance front, Agarwal said the company will tie up with banks and also also put in its own resources as equity. Essar Ports, which delisted in late 2015, will close 2017-18 with a pre-tax profit of about Rs 10 billion and is targeting to take it up to Rs 13 billion with the commissioning of new facilities, he said. The total debt of the company stands at about Rs 30 billion, Agarwal said, adding that it is "very comfortable" on the debt to EBITDA ratio as compared to peers in the infrastructure building space.
The company is targeting to handle 50 million tonnes of cargo in FY18 and 35 per cent of it will be third party shipments, he said. In the next two-three years, the company wants the Essar group companies' and third party cargo at 50 per cent each, he added. It started the fiscal with a capacity of 82 million tonnes which will go up to 110 million tonnes. The capacity addition will include 13 million tonnes addition at Visakhapatnam by November, where it operates an iron ore exporting berth, at an investment of Rs 8.30 billion.
It also expects to add 20 million tonnes capacity at its port at Salaya by end of the year, Agarwal said. Concurring with peers, Agarwal said there is excess capacity across the country at present due to a decline in trade and added that the company is not bidding for any new assets. It has, however, bid to operate the part of Chabahar Port in Iran which is being developed by the government, along with four other bidders, he said.