Delays persist for Indian shippers despite Colombo congestion easing

Sri Lankan authorities have amped up efforts to bring Colombo port flow back to normal following severe congestion that threw vessel schedules out of whack, but Indian shippers may have to wait a while longer to see measurable respite from the dislocations tied to their transshipment movement through the South Asian hub.

“All operations and other services of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority’s (SLPA) terminals and all other sister terminals at the Port of Colombo are swiftly returning to normal,” a Sri Lankan official statement said.

But that claim was met with skepticism from Indian freight sources when contacted. Sources noted while the berthing scenario at Colombo has moderately improved, terminals there are choked with a huge backlog of containers built over the past month, which they said could take several weeks to clear for daily port activity to reach pre-congestion levels.

“A good volume of export containers [landed weeks ago] are still stuck at Colombo,” a Cochin-based freight forwarder told. “With carriers continuing to skip Colombo subject to berthing delays, it has become incredibly difficult to secure and plan cargo bookings.”

Those delays have been even more worrisome for reefer shippers, given the time-sensitive and high-value nature of their cargo.

To that end, the forwarder source cited an example of an excessive turn time suffered by a Cochin-Colombo feeder sailing. “The Maersk Avon that departed Cochin on Nov. 13 was able to berth at Colombo only on Nov. 26, a typical one-day routing, with its return to Cochin now scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday — 20 days for the round voyage.”

Maersk (India) was unavailable for comment.

Still, SLPA voiced optimism about what it said were improvements at Colombo. “Considering the effort displayed by Port of Colombo, we are confident that we can return to normalcy and continue to extend the high level of service and efficiency our customers have become accustomed to,” the authority noted.

MSC tamps down speculation

Mediterranean Shipping Co., Colombo’s largest liner customer, has rerouted many of its vessels to Indian ports, such as Cochin, Ennore, and Mundra. Those diversions also sparked speculation that the Geneva-based carrier was considering relocating its India hub operations out of Colombo. But MSC Lanka later issued a statement scotching any such move.

“Mediterranean Shipping Co. would like to assure all our business partners and valued clients that no such decision has been taken by the company and MSC will remain fully committed to its operations and its clients in Colombo,” the company said.

Besides the Colombo logjam and acute container shortages, last week’s cyclone-related disruptions at Chennai and other nearby ports dealt another blow to supply chains out of India’s east coast corridor.

While a steady uptick in import flow seen at key Indian ports in recent weeks could help ease the heightened pressure on equipment supply, shipper hopes around a softer carrier pricing environment are unlikely to materialize anytime soon with strong export demand.

Source: JoC