Santanu Sanyal

Kolkata, July 26

The number of Bay of Bengal feeder vessels operating between the ports of Kolkata/ Haldia/ Visakhapatnam and Colombo is to increase shortly to cope with the traffic rush.

At least two feeder operators Far Shipping and Sea Consortium have announced the introduction of a third vessel each, Green Peas and Express Pumori respectively, thus bringing up the number of feeders on the route to eight from the present six.

Currently, there are three feeder operators active on the route, each operating two vessels - Sea Consortium's Eco Dhani and Achiever, Far Shipping's Dafu and Yong Wang and Bengal Tiger Line's Tiger Spirit and Tiger Power.

For some time, Colombo has been experiencing traffic rush, caused mainly by several large mail line operators' (MLOs) decision to switch over to the Sri Lankan port for transhipment. Maersk is a case in point. (Colombo offers 21 days' free time to MLOs as compared to Singapore's three days).

But the number of feeders operating on the route did not increase at the same time.

As a result, there were rollovers leading to missing connections ultimately resulting in delay in the delivery of goods. The problem was aggravated by the inclement weather and the recent strained industrial relations hitting the Jaya container terminal of the port.

Other problems

There were other problems also. The increase in shipments of heavy cargoes such as chrome ore and manganese ore and other items affected the loadability of the vessels.

A 350-TEU capacity feeder could load only around 300 boxes. At the same time, the cargo inducement on the reverse direction, i.e. on Colombo- Visakhapatnam/ Haldia/ Kolkata leg left much to be desired.

Thus, there was a mismatch and the shippers and freight brokers complained about the lack of balancing between the demand for feeders and their actual availability.

The mismatch continued for the past few months. The situation is now set to change for the better. Shippers at Kolkata/Haldia can now hope to get a feeder to and from Colombo after every two to three days as compared to present frequency of four to five days.

Meanwhile, at least one new shipping line, Emirates Shipping, has started using the feeder route to Colombo for shipments to the US and West Asian Gulf ports from here, according to shipping sources.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 27, 2006)
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