Lifeline of India’s maritime trade
India has 64 shipping companies, of which 19 operate from Mumbai, and the Port of Mumbai handles 33% of India’s total trade. The port of Mumbai is a salt water port and major fluctuations in the density occur on account of tide. Density mainly varies in the monsoon period viz. June to September. The month of February is very pleasant and usually dry. The average temperature varies between 19 and 28 degrees centigrade.India has been a great maritime nation. During the 8th century BC, shipbuilding was a skilled craft and traveler’s such as Marco Polo and Nicolo Conti recorded great admiration for Indian teak built ships. The finest wooden ships in the world came out of the Wadia shipbuilding yard in Mumbai. Between 17th and 19th centuries, they constructed 300 vessels, including schooners, ghurabs (grabs), sloops, pilot vessel, brigs, frigates, gunboats and steamers. The Mumbai harbour was known for its spaciousness and safety. However, a harbour alone does not make a great port which also requires docks and ships. The Bombay Port Trust was established to plan and expand this natural harbour in 1873. Ever since, it has been actively occupied in trying to meet the growing needs of maritime trade
In 1880, the first wet dock, the Prince’s Dock, was built on reclaimed land. This was followed by the building of Victoria Dock, Alexandra Dock (now Indira Dock ) and Huges Dry Dock in 1888. However, India’s long and glorious shipping tradition took a downturn during the British rule. Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India in 1931 that Indian shipping had to perish so that British shipping might flourish. The Scindia Steam and Navigation Company was inaugurated in 1919 and the first Indian-owned ship set for sail from Bombay to London on its maiden commercial voyage in that year. After independence, shipping was re-energised and a National Shipping Board was set up which has helped the Port of Mumbai to regain its past glory and exercise its influence on India’s maritime trade in the new Millennium.