The Port of Visakhapatnam (also called Vizag) is located in east central India on an embayment off the Bay of Bengal about 325 nautical miles northeast of the Port of Chennai (formerly Madras) and some 468 kilometers southwest of the Port of Paradip. The Port of Visakhapatnam's natural harbor is formed by two promontories that create the only protected harbor on the Coromandel Coast. The Port of Visakhapatnam is home to the headquarters of India's Eastern Naval Command. In 2001, almost 983 thousand people lived in the city of Visakhapatnam, and more than 1.3 million lived in the urban area.
A major administrative and commercial center in the state of Andhra Pradesh, the Port of Visakhapatnam is an important ship-building center that built the first steamer to be launched in India in 1948. The Port of Visakhapatnam is also the home of many heavy industries that include important steel and petroleum plants, India's dredging corporation's headquarters, and many industries that process zinc and fertilizers. The ship yard and ship-building corporations are also major employers in the Port of Visakhapatnam. In addition to handling cargoes, the Port of Visakhapatnam is an important fishing port with a harbor dedicated to that industry.
The ancient Port of Visakhapatnam, called Vizag, was mentioned in the holy Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, making it an old and revered city. The Ramayana tells of Lord Rama forming his army of monkey men and mighty animals in the area. The Mahabharata tells of Bheema killing the demon Bakasura in a village just 25 miles from the Port of Visakhapatnam.
Hindu religious texts report that the region of the Port of Visakhapatnam was part of the Kalinga territory in the 5th Century BC, and artifacts found in the area suggest that a Buddhist empire existed there. It is said that the bloodiest battle of the era took place there, resulting in King Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism. Many different rulers controlled the area over the following centuries – the Chalukyas, Pallavas, and the Reddy kings.
When Europeans began to arrive on the Indian sub-continent, the Port of Visakhapatnam was a gateway to India for merchants from France, Holland, and Britain for exporting ivory, tobacco, and textiles.
In the 1700s, the Port of Visakhapatnam was part of the Northern Circars region that included coastal Andhra and coastal Orissa under French control. Under British rule, the Port of Visakhapatnam became a district in the Madras Presidency. In 1804, the French and British navies fought the Battle of Vizagapatam just outside the harbor of the Port of Visakhapatnam.
In the 18th Century, the tomb of Muslim saint Syed Ali Ishak Madina was constructed in the Port of Visakhapatnam. Hindus revere the tomb as much as Muslims, and older residents tell of ships raising and lowering their flags three times in honor of the saint. Many ship owners still make offerings at the shrine after a successful voyage.
The British colonial government recognized a need for a port in east central India as early as the mid-1800s. In 1872, E.S. Thomas submitted a proposal for the port's creation. However, the proposal for construction of a harbor did not come about until 1914 when the Bengal Nagpur Railway proposed and the British Admiralty adopted a construction plan for the Port of Visakhapatnam.
Construction of the Port of Visakhapatnam began in 1927 and continued until 1933 when the first commercial vessel entered the port. Two old ships were sunk at the harbor's entrance to form breakwaters. The Vizag harbor is protected by Dolphin's Nose Hill to the south and Ross Hill to the north. The natural harbor was deep enough to receive ocean-going vessels until the 1950s.
In 1933, the Bengal-Nagpur Railway administered the Port of Visakhapatnam when the port had only three berths and could handle only 300 thousand tons of cargo per year.
Between 1933 and 1964, the Port of Visakhapatnam was administered by a variety of national departments. After India won independence in 1947, the Port of Visakhapatnam was its biggest district, and it was then divided into three districts: Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, and Visakhapatnam. In 1964, the Visakhapatnam Port Trust was formed under India's Major Port Trusts Act of 1963.
In the 1950s, the Port of Visakhapatnam gained three jetty berths, a quay berth, and a new transit shed. New cargo-handling equipment was acquired, including pipelines for transferring mineral oils to storage tanks. An oil wharf with two berths was built in the Port of Visakhapatnam in 1957 to support the creation of a refinery and transfer crude oil and petroleum products.
During the 1960s, the Port of Visakhapatnam was improved to keep up with the evolving cargo vessels that traveled the seas. Two new berths were added to export Bailadilla ore to Japan, and a mechanical ore-handling plant (the first of its kind in India) was created. A new fertilizer berth was also built in the Port of Visakhapatnam to meet the needs of a private fertilizer factory, M/s Coromandel Fertilisers Limited. The berth was leased out in 1967, and the Port of Visakhapatnam became the first major port in India to introduce privatization. The next year, the port acquired mechanized facilities for handling raw fertilizer materials by conveyor. In addition, the port commissioned two new multi-purpose cargo berths to meet increasing cargo volumes.
After the closure of the Suez Canal in the 1960s, more deep draft tankers joined the global shipping community. The Port of Visakhapatnam developed an oil mooring facility in 1976 to accommodate the new larger crude ships. As technology changed shipping and transportation systems in the 1970s, the Port of Visakhapatnam undertook the biggest expansion effort in its history, creating an outer port to accommodate ships of 150 thousand DWT. As time passed, cargo throughput at the outer port surpassed that of the Port of Visakhapatnam's older inner port. The outer port served as an outlet for iron ore exports on deep-draft bulk carriers.
As oil trade increased in the 1980s, the Port of Visakhapatnam constructed an off-shore tanker terminal that could handle crude tankers to 150 thousand DWT. Bulk trade was also increasing, the Port of Visakhapatnam commissioned a general/bulk cargo berth in 1985 that could accommodate vessels up to 60 thousand DWT.
During the decade of the 1990s, the Port of Visakhapatnam's old jetties were converted into a regular quay for heavy loads. In 1995, an additional multi-purpose berth was added to handle ships with up to 11 meters draft, and an specialized terminal for unloading liquefied petroleum gas was added in the outer harbor in 2001.
In the early years of the 21st Century, a new container terminal was opened in the outer harbor and concessioned to Visakha Container Terminal P Limited. Two new berths in the inner harbor of the Port of Visakhapatnam were developed, and a new multi-purpose berth was also added. New heavy-duty cargo-handling was acquired in the early 2000s, and information technology was introduced to the Port of Visakhapatnam in 2002.