Government under pressure to declare Force Majeure at 12 major ports

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on March 28, 2020 Published on March 28, 2020

Pressure is mounting on the shipping ministry to declare force majeure at the dozen ports run by the Central government amidst a 21-day nationwide lockdown to check the spread of Corona Virus.

Force Majeure is a clause that absolves firms from meeting their contractual commitments for reasons beyond their control.

Many of India’s private ports have declared Force Majeure at their facilities.

“It is humanly not possible to practice social distancing in cargo handling where manpower is used in large numbers. Hence, we had requested all port managements to permit only mechanical handling of cargo where the deployment of labour is minimallved,” K V Krishna Kumar, President, Federation of Associations of Stevedores, wrote in a letter to the Shipping Secretary Gopal Krishna.

With the port managements and the ministry not agreeable to this request from the Stevedores Federation, it has now urged the government to declare Force Majeure at all major ports.

“Declaring Force Majeure would protect the manual labour as they need not work and it would protect all the exporters and importers from unaffordable demurrage charges payable to ship owners,” Kumar wrote in the letter.

“It cannot be forgotten that the exporters and importers are the valued customers and users of ports and it would be in the interest of the ports to protect the interests of the customers,” he stated.

The exemption of port services as “essential service”, according to Kumar, should not be used “indiscriminately in the present conditions”.

“It should be used only for handling of essential commodities and handling methods where the engagement of labour is minimal and social distancing is possible like oil, gas, conveyor handling systems and containers,” he added.

With ports coming under the ambit of essential services, state-owned Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust said it is “fundamental” to keep the supply chain operational while also protecting JNPT’s employees and users.

“The Port has already undertaken several preventive measures to equip and protect its workforce. All our buses and workplace are being sanitized regularly. These measures are expected to limit the impact of the outbreak while also protecting the trade channel from any disruptions,” JNPT Chairman Sanjay Sethi said.

Sethi also assured the EXIM community that “there will be no disruptions in operations at the port or any other terminals at JNPT and the port remains fully operational and will continue to operate as per schedule”.

Published on March 28, 2020

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