Agri Business

Container shortage may spoil Christmas, New Year cheer for exporters of seafood, coir products

V Sajeev Kumar Kochi | Updated on November 30, 2020 Published on November 30, 2020

Huge backlog at Colombo port, currently used for transshipment of Indian goods containers, is resulting in feeder ships from India missing the mainline connectivity schedules

Indian seafood exporters, especially from the southern region, may miss delivery of many overseas consignments for Christmas and New Year, thanks to shortage of empty refrigerated (reefer) containers and pile-up of boxes at Colombo Port.

Exporters of coir products too are facing a tough time executing export orders in the absence of dry containers.

The exporters depend on Colombo for transshipment of their containers to buyers in the US, EU, and the Far East, among other destinations. However, the huge backlog in that port after the workers’ strike and the rising number of Covid-19 cases has delayed operations, resulting in feeder ships with cargo from the southern part of India missing schedules of mainline connectivity.

The crisis has come at a time when the sector was able to get some export orders after the pandemic shrank the demand for marine products globally, said Alex K Ninan, president, Seafood Exporters Association of India – Kerala Region.

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“Missing schedules, inventory holding, etc have become a regular affair, forcing buyers abroad to cancel orders. There are only a few credible buyers now, as the Covid-19 situation has rendered many genuine customers bankrupt. In the current state of affairs, several exporters are unable to make timely shipments,” Ninan told BusinessLine.

The shortage of empty reefer containers has forced shippers to depend on other ports in West Asia and the Far East for empty boxes, leading to an additional expense, starting at $1,000 depending on the destination.

Terming the situation as ‘grave’, Ninan said the seafood community has approached the Cochin Port Trust to consider alternatives with regard to making arrangements for more mainline vessels to berth in Kochi.

Coir exporters are also missing export schedules. “We miss most shipping windows spaced four to seven days apart due to the current container shortages. The delay has affected our cash flow,” said Mahadevan Pavithran, Managing Director, Travancore, Cocotuft, Cherthala.

M Beena, Chairperson, Cochin Port Trust, said, “We are going to discuss the issue with major reefer carriers soon. With new mainline and feeder services coming to Kochi, the repositioning of empty containers will be easier, and hence, we are hopeful that the issue can be resolved early.”

On the shortage of empty containers, sources in the shipping fraternity said higher exports against reduced imports, especially from China, have resulted in lesser generation of empty boxes. Besides, lower capacity of ships prompted by subdued economic activity due to Covid-19, unavailability of rail and road transportation networks, dislocation in manufacturing and distribution schedules, and congestion at transshipment ports have led to higher turnaround time for containers causing a shortage of empty boxes for exports, the sources said.

The port has already started receiving mainline vessels of MSC Lines on adhoc basis. Plans are afoot to make this a regular service for the benefit of Exim trade, the sources added.

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Published on November 30, 2020
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