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Recycled and how: Cargo containers turn cafes, rooms and other utilities
With a growing demand for used empty cargo containers, which serve as cafés, restrooms and restaurants, such containers are not only catering to the needs of the shipping industry, but also making their presence felt in other sectors.
Modifying a used container is less expensive and has become very common. However, there are certain formal procedures for buying the 20-ft containers that cost around Rs 60,000 to Rs 90,000 based on the model, manufacturing year and condition. A 40-foot container costs double.
Apart from serving as office and hotel rooms, such containers were also re-positioned as mobile toilets and dress-changing areas at tourism spots.
Around five years ago, the Thoothukudi seaport saw imports of scrap and wastepaper from Colombo in ‘shipper-owned containers’ and once the cargo was offloaded, such containers were sold for modifications. Such operations were done marginally then. However, the trend has become more popular of late.
A container used for a period of 15 years and over has been converted into a new object of buyer’s choice, according to JP Joe Villavarayar, president, Tuticorin Ship Agents Association.
Around 15 container leasing companies in Chennai are in the business of selling old and damaged containers that lack adequate flooring and are not in a condition to load and offload cargo. Now, designing the containers to suit the requirements of the buyers is another hurdle.
These companies were also maintaining online trade links with countries such as Europe, US, Singapore and Taiwan, Villavarayar said.
According to VR Palaniappan, construction engineer and bank valuer, the temporary structures were not making big business in Madurai.
Since such containers were airtight in nature, long term storage of construction material, especially cement, could be guaranteed. However, the new trend is yet to break ground in Madurai for domestic purpose, he said.
S Muthuraman, manager, Bay Container Terminal Private Limited, said fabricated container makers in Thoothukudi, Chennai and Mumbai have created a booming business.
Its market is popular since it’s cost effective, portable and users feel that it’s safe. While 30 to 40 containers are fabricated and modified a day in Chennai, only seven to 15 containers were in such business on average daily in Thoothukudi, he said.
Mostly, tea stalls and hotel rooms in Madurai, guest houses in Mettupalayam, first-aid centres and hospital dispensaries in Bengaluru and office rooms along toll gates have found place in such modified containers.
However, in foreign countries, housing projects, which could accommodate five persons, were coming up in such containers.
A 20-ft-long container weighs about 2,180 kg. While most used containers are fabricated for multipurpose use, some containers, which are not seaworthy, could be sold as scrap, fetching Rs 21,000 per tonne, he said.
T Johnson, president, Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Thoothukudi, said Malaysia is the hub of the country’s commercial container fabrication industry.
The agencies involved in this market would buy such used containers at scrap price and modify it according to the needs of buyers.
Such containers were normally used as temporary office rooms at project sites. Since ground rent for holding containers was cheap, second-hand containers were being used mostly to remodel and refurbish such ones. Hence, such value-added containers were attracting more buyers.
Reliable sources from the shipping industry said that closure of the Sterlite Copper unit in Thoothukudi has led to imbalance in trade and led to a decline in the availability of containers.
“On an average, the Thoothukudi seaport witnesses around 750 containers of import cargo and 1,500 containers of export cargo per month,” sources said.