Concerned over the recent developments at Colombo Port leading to a work stoppage, the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents warned the existing crisis could lead to loss of confidence as a transhipment hub and shifting of business to competitor’s ports.

In a letter to the Chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority, the CASA -- representing 135 members of the shipping lines – said that the current unrest had led to the work stoppage at Colombo Port for a day. In such a scenario, shipping lines have been pushed shifting services out of Colombo to other regional ports

Shehara De Silva, Chairman, CASA said that regaining such service calls back to Colombo would take years. Work stoppages can effect on trade and transshipment volumes adversely, and would impact revenues of SLPA, CICT and SAGT when the country is clamouring for forex inflows

He pointed out that the vessels awaiting berthoutside the port and are unable to complete cargo operations, resulting in delays thereby incurring additional costs, and missing voyage schedules.

Ships that have completed operations are idling inside the port without being able to sail out. The delayed departure results in financial loss for the shipping lines, schedule integrity, delayed delivery of cargo and missing berthing opportunities in other ports, he said.

Opportunity for Cochin Port

The current crisis in Sri Lank had opened up opportunities for Cochin Port as it started receiving enquiries for diversion of mainline ships. 

A senior port official told BusinessLine that the MSC Line has already confirmed diversion of its two mainline ships to Cochin and more are expected to follow. The new concession scheme introduced effective May 1 has already generated positive response amongst the shipping lines. Consequently, the port and the International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT) at Vallarpadam are getting enquiries for diversion of mainline ships.

Kerala exporters in a fix

Meanwhile, the developments in Sri Lanka have put Kerala’s exporters in a fix as coir, seafood, spices shipments mainly depend on Colombo for transhipments. Right now, around 40 per cent of the Indian cargo mainly from the West Coast goes to Colombo Port for transhipment.

Though stoppage in Colombo has been lifted, Alex K. Ninan, president of Seafood Exporters Association of India (Kerala Region) raised concern on slowing down of cargo handling in the terminal, which delays schedules. “We have tried alternate ports such as Singapore, Port Kelang, Salalah when the operations at Colombo Port were hit during Covid spread. But, the non-availability of connecting feeder vessels from Cochin is a time consuming process”, he said.

Coir exporters say that around 80-100 containers have been lying idle in Colombo for the past one week. Mahadevan Pavithran, a coir exporter in Alappuzha said that majority exporters are re-routing their cargo through Nhava Sheva and Mundra for direct sailings. But, the Mundra Port is reported to be facing congestion which needs to be addressed at the earliest, he added.

Prakash Iyer, Chairman of Cochin Port Users Forum requested Cochin Port management to convene an urgent meeting with stakeholders for starting more feeder services between Cochin and Chittagong Port to help increase transhipment volumes at Vallarpadam terminal. The shipping line YML service has already moved around 150 transhipment containers to Cochin from Chittagong for direct sailing by skipping Colombo. The numbers can be raised by adding more feeder services, he said, adding that south Indian cargoes meant for European markets would be highly benefited.