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Indian shippers feel the pinch from Sri Lanka's Colombo port congestion

SRI Lanka's Colombo port's severe congestion is making life more difficult for Indian shippers already badly bruised by tightening vessel space and skyrocketing freight rates under the crippling effects of the Covid-19 crisis

22 November 2020 - 19:00
SRI Lanka's Colombo port's severe congestion is making life more difficult for Indian shippers already badly bruised by tightening vessel space and skyrocketing freight rates under the crippling effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

Colombo handles the bulk of India's transshipment volume, especially for trade in and out of the country's east coast corridor with fewer direct long-haul sailings.



While warning shippers to anticipate further delays and disruptions to their cargo, major carriers noted an acute labour shortage following the enforcement of fresh community lockdowns intended to contain surging Covid-19 infections, combined with wage contract disputes plaguing one of the Colombo terminals, has led to current excessive slowdowns at the harbour.



'Due to the pandemic situation in Colombo, the local government has clamped a partial lockdown that has curbed staff commuting to work,' Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) said in a customer advisory. 'In view of the low turnout of staff to work, Colombo terminals are being faced with severe labour shortage.' It said the operational crunch is creating significant vessel backups at the port.



Other liners active in Indian trades also put out similar notices. 'Currently, there are berthing delays, sailing delays, and ITT [inter-terminal transfer] delays experienced at the Colombo port,' Maersk said. 'However, our teams are working closely with the terminals in order to minimise the customer impact.'



CMA CGM said sailings under its NEMO and Colombo JAX routings - offering weekly calls at Colombo - have been affected.



Besides sending regional transshipment movement into a tailspin, mounting Colombo delays have already had ripple effects for vessel schedule reliability at some Indian ports. 'We had many vessels delayed at Cochin due to the disruption in Colombo,' an official at the southern Indian port said, as reported by IHS Media.



Digital freight forwarder Shipwaves COO Sajid Mohammed said when equipment availability is so low and rate levels are shooting up, the Colombo congestion occurring just ahead of the holiday season is a 'triple whammy' for Indian shippers. He said cargo interests could face up to a four-week delay in this worsening scenario.



Daniel Krassenstein, global supply chain director of US-based industrial packaging manufacturer Procon Pacific, echoed those concerns, noting the company has several shipments out of India's east coast locations already held up because of the Colombo congestion quagmire.


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