The Sri Lankan economic crisis has started affecting Kerala’s exporters of coir, spices and seafood, especially in view of the delays they face in the transhipment of their cargo at the Colombo Port.

Alex K Ninan, President of Seafood Exporters Association of India-Kerala Region, said the delays at the Colombo Port due to the reported shortage of fuel and workers’ protest have forced truckers to reduce their fleet capacity. This has resulted in the building up of inventories and missing shipments for scheduled connections.

Many seafood exporters could not meet the financial year-end commitments, leading to the delay in timely shipments of marine products to the US and European markets.

As a result, shippers are offering their consignments at discounted rates to buyers. Moreover, delays in Colombo have forced marine product exporters to move their cargo to Jebel Ali or Singapore for transshipment, which is time consuming and expensive. The non-availability of required feeder vessels for voyage to other transshipment ports is also posing a concern. Exporters have to depend on ship owners with ad hoc vessels to meet their delivery schedules, he said.

According to Ninan, Cochin Port can be an option to meet the transhipment needs of the seafood sector if the port management takes efforts in bringing mainline vessels. Many seafood exporters, who lost their business during the pandemic, are beginning to recoup but the crisis in the island-nation has worsened the situation.

Looking at alternatives

Shaji Baby John, Chairman, Kings Infra, a leading seafood exporter, said there are serious bottlenecks in Colombo Port, forcing mother vessels to skip. There is a need to look at alternatives for making timely shipments of buyers, especially to the US and Europe. Cochin, Salalah, and Dubai are some of the alternatives for Colombo, he said.

Mahadevan Pavithran, a leading coir exporter in Alappuzha, said coir consignments to the ports in US and Europe are now taking 8-10 weeks against 5-6 weeks and buyers are seeking extended credit. In most cases, they are releasing the payments after receiving the goods. The reduction in the number of feeder vessels to take the cargo to Colombo is also a concern.

As the next season for coir products in the US and European market starts from June, he requested the Shipping Ministry to take steps to arrange more feeder vessels to move the cargo from Cochin to Mundra or Nhava Sheva at subsidised rates.

A spokesperson of All India Spices Exporters Forum said there is a huge delay and congestion at the Colombo port on various issues and it is too early to assess the impact. But, it could definitely be a major factor as the crisis lingers on.