The Port of Mormugao is the main port for the state of Goa in on the shores of west central India. Just four kilometers from Vasco da Gama and 34 kilometers southwest of the city of Panaji, the Port of Mormugao is famous for its picturesque harbor. The Portuguese chose the Port of Mormugao to be the capital of their empire, and it was an important trade center for the British.
In 1624, the Portuguese began to fortify the Port of Mormugao town at the headlands overlooking the harbor to defend their maritime supremacy in the Goa region, even though their capital was in the city of Gao. The existing Bijapur sultans fiercely resisted the Portuguese invasion, and there were many attempts. In the early 1640s, the Dutch tried to take the Port of Mormugao, but they were unsuccessful.
By 1683, the Marathas posed serious threats to the Portuguese in the Port of Mormugao. When the City of Gao began to decline, the Portuguese viceroy moved the capital to the fortress in the Port of Mormugao.
Building was underway in the late 17th Century. Jesuit architects tried to avoid the day’s ornate styles, and the viceroy’s spartan palace still stands today. When the Portuguese viceroys felt too isolated in the Port of Mormugao, they moved their headquarters to the nearby city of Panjim. During World War II, British agents stayed in the viceroy’s palace (which was by then a hotel) and destroyed German ships that tried to anchor in the neutral waters of the Port of Mormugao.
When the Port of Mormugao was commissioned in 1888, it contained three berths and a 358-meter long breakwater. It continued to grow, and by 1922, two more berths were built, the breakwater was extended to 522.4 meters, and a 270-meter mole was added. During the 1930s, Americans and American candy manufacturers discovered Goan cashew nuts, bringing more commerce through the port.
As the industry of mining grew in the state of Gao in the mid-20th Century, the Portuguese created two new dedicated ore berths and an iron ore terminal. The Port of Mormugao played an important role in Japan’s reconstruction efforts after World War II. After 1947, Goa’s iron ore mines began to operate on a commercial scale. By 1953, Port of Mormugao traffic reached 278 thousand tons. By 1974, that amount grew to 1.5 million tons of cargo. Today, the Port of Mormugao exports 39% of all iron ore from India.
When the Port of Mormugao was liberated in 1961, the Portuguese era ended. The port saw many changes as development focused on infrastructure improvements. Although the government closed the railway from Vasco da Gama after liberation, the Port of Mormugao operated its own railway from the harbor to Vasco da Gama.
Growth in cargo traffic highlighted the Port of Mormugao’s inadequate port facilities in the 20th Century, opening doors for entrepreneurs. Chowgule & Co., with a concession from the Portuguese, set up the first mechanical ore handling plant of its kind in Asia, with capacity to handle ten thousand tons per day.
In 1964, the Port of Mormugao was recognized as a Major Port for India, opening the way for infrastructure development and empowering the new Board of Trustees to make important decisions. Competition in the ore export business came from Brazil and Australia in the early 1960s, forcing major changes in the Indian iron ore market and leading to a decision to develop the Port of Mormugao’s deep-water and cargo-handling capacity. By 1979, a new ore-handling facility was completed, with capacity for 12 million tons of iron ore per year and eight thousand tons per hour. The channel and berths were dredged to permit vessels to 60 thousand DWT into the port, and modern equipment was brought in to make cargo handling more efficient.
In the latter half of the 20th Century, several developments added to the Port of Mormugao’s capacity. In 1976, a dedicated mineral oil berth was opened. In the 1980s and 1990s, two mutli-purpose berths with alongside depth of from 11 to 12.5 meters were added for general cargo. The 1959 mechanical ore handling plant was decommissioned in 1992, and a modern ship repair facility was installed at the two oldest berths in 1995. The Port of Mormugao’s railway linking to the Indian rail system was opened in 1997.