Three days after a stretch of the Suez Canal was blocked by a giant container ship, the Centre on Friday chalked out a four-point plan to deal with the situation.
This plan, chalked out in a meeting of the logistics division of the department of commerce, is to prioritise cargo, keep the freight rates the same, send advisory to ports and re-route ships.
The 193-km artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, providing the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe. The 2.24 lakh-tonne container ship, en route to the Netherlands from China, was grounded in the Suez Canal on Tuesday (March 23) morning, blocking the waterway traffic, leading to a huge pile-up and delaying cargoes ranging from oil to consumer goods.
After Friday’s meeting, chaired by Special Secretary (Logistics) Pawan Agarwal, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry issued a statement saying the blockade was now hitting global trade.
According to the statement, over 200 vessels are waiting on the north and south sides of the canal and about 60 vessels are getting added to the queue daily.
The government fears a total backlog of about 350 vessels if the stretch is not cleared in two more days. “It is estimated that this backlog would take about a week’s time to clear," the statement read.
As per the plan, the cargo would be prioritised for clearance. It was decided that the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO), MPEDA and APEDA would jointly identify cargo, particularly perishable, for priority movement and work with the shipping lines for the same.
The Container Shipping Lines Association (CSLA) assured that the freight rates as per existing contracts would be honoured.
"The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways assured to issue an advisory to these ports so as to gear up arrangements and ensure efficient handling during the forthcoming busy period," the statement said.
Besides, shipping lines were advised through CSLA to explore the option of re-routing of ships via Cape of Good Hope. Such re-routing usually takes 15 additional days.
The meeting was attended by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, ADG Shipping, CSLA and FIEO.
India uses this route for exports/imports worth $200 billion, including petroleum goods, organic chemicals, iron and steel, automobile, machinery, textiles and carpets, handicrafts and leather goods, to/from North America, South America and Europe.
Among the efforts being taken to straighten the stuck vessel are digging on both sides, extra barges being added on every high tide, tugboats, etc.