Kerala’s seafood sector stares at Rs 1,500-crore loss as exports come to a halt

Struggling to recover from the slump in global marine products market triggered by Covid-19, the seafood export sector in Kerala has suffered another setback as the blockade at Colombo Transshipment Port is indefinitely delaying shipments.

It is the acute shortage of refrigerated (reefer) containers used for export of marine products that has left the industry struggling.

As mother ships cannot dock at Kochi port due to inadequate draft, exporters here depend on Colombo port for transshipment of containers. However, the vessels that left for Colombo weeks ago could not dock due to huge backlog.

“Containers have piled up at Colombo port and there is no assurance on when the backlog will be cleared. The vessels had to wait in the outer sea for weeks together and some of the ships have been diverted to other ports. The blockade at Colombo has led to congestion at Singapore and Malaysia ports also,” said Seafood Exporters Association of India Kerala region president Alex K Ninan.

He said the Christmas and New Year season brings about 30% of revenue for the state’s marine export sector.

The increased demand during the season brings exports to the tune of `1,500 crore and seafood firms in Kochi had received some orders first time after the Covid crisis. Meanwhile, the storage facility at seafood processing units in Kochi has reached maximum capacity and the processing units are planning to stop procurement.

“There are around 50 processing units in Kochi and the combined storage facility is 30,000 tonnes. The units are planning to stop procurement which will land the fishing sector in crisis. Besides, we are unable to make payments due to the delay,” he said.

The crisis started in October with some crane operators at the Colombo port testing Covid positive. As the authorities were struggling to restore operations, the workers at the port launched a strike which deepened the crisis.

Though the Sri lankan government brought port under essential services, the huge backlog has delayed shipment schedules indefinitely leading to the cancellation of export orders. Meanwhile, Cochin Port held a meeting on Tuesday to explore chances for an alternative to end the stalemate.

Representatives of seafood exporters association, shipping line operators and DP World attended the meeting.

“There is an acute shortage of reefer containers as those shipped are not coming back. There is some concentration of containers in Chinese ports as they have recalled the freight carriers. So we are trying to arrange reefer containers with the help of shipping line operators.

“We have asked the exporters to quantify the requirements in each sector and to ship consignments through alternative routes,” said Cochin Port Trust chairperson M Beena.