Stevedores seeks relief measures as virus cases surge

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on May 06, 2021

A force majeure clause absolves firms from meeting their contractual commitments for reasons beyond their control

Stevedores engaged in loading and unloading bulk cargo from and onto ships at the Centre-run major ports have called for relief measures including declaration of force majeure and rate stability as the second wave of the coronavirus rips through the country, posing operational challenges in clearing cargo.

A force majeure clause absolves firms from meeting their contractual commitments for reasons beyond their control.

Stating that the current situation was “more severe and extra ordinary than that seen in 2020,” the Federation of Association of Stevedores has urged the ministry of ports, shipping and waterways to direct the port trusts to declare force majeure at their ports to help stevedores avoid penalties from failure to adhere to contractual obligations.

The Federation, in a letter to the ministry, has also sought complete moratorium on tariff increases at major ports for two years, including those based on indexation and roll back of tariff increases in the last 12 months.

It has also called for “reversal of detrimental policies” such as the berthing policy for dry bulk cargo at major ports, certain provisions of the stevedoring and shore handling policy and amendments to the land policy which currently makes leasing land in major ports prohibitive.

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In April 2020, the ministry had instructed major port trusts to ensure that no penal charges, demurrage, detention charges, dwell time charges, anchorage charges, penal berth hire charges, performance related penalties etc are levied on any port users (traders, importers, exporters, shipping lines, concessionaires, licences, CFS etc) for any delay in docking/undocking, loading/unloading operations or evacuation/arrival of cargo/repair of vessel during the lockdown period plus 30 days recovery period.

“It is a different matter that each of the ports have implemented this order differently, with some ports still refusing to abide. While one of our members approached the court for implementation of the ministry order, many of our members have represented their cases to the respective port Chairmen,” Ishwar Achanta, President of the Federation wrote in a 5 May letter to Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister of State (I/C), Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways.

While the lockdown rules have exempted ports and supply chain activities, Achanta said that the “ground reality was different”. “Across port cities, our workers continue to be harassed, especially when a night curfew is in effect. We are also seeing an exodus of migrant labour, leading to labour unavailability, due to which we are finding it difficult to meet the contractual obligations with the export-import clients. Extending relief to the stevedores who are engaged in providing essential services will ensure that the activities at major ports remain operational during the pandemic,” he added.

Published on May 06, 2021

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