The lockdown has adversely affected the logistics and warehousing sector across the country especially Indian ports that now face a scarcity of workers. The shortage of workers in unloading and transporting goods poses a tremendous challenge to the country’s trade, according to industry officials .
Oceans are responsible for ferrying almost 90% of India’s exports and imports by volume and 70% by value, including a wide range of products, ranging from chemicals, electronics, automobile parts, etc.
Consequently, this will leave a majority of the Industry struggling for weeks and months of uncertainty on obtaining raw material and export of goods, even if the lockdown is lifted.
Unless the cargo is evacuated from the ports, there will not be space available for the subsequent work. At present, all cargo space is fully occupied at all major ports.
There are two primary problems that are posing hindrances to the ports. Firstly, due to shortage of workers, the cargo is left unattended and hence cannot be loaded from the ships. Secondly, goods can’t be transported from ports to the hinterland due to a shortage of trucks.
There are concerns that some firms may back away from taking delivery of goods since the lockdown has hit demand in segments like electronics and automobiles which are seen as non-essential.
Moreover, legal disputes are likely to arise on payment of demurrage on goods that have not been offloaded from ships.
Last week, the Shipping Ministry advised all ports to invoke the “force majeure” clause in their contracts. “However, these orders do not impact or dilute the fact that each major port needs to remain operational during the covid-19 pandemic and continue cargo operations in all respects,” an official statement said.
Steve Felder, Managing Director of Maersk South Asia, attributes the congestion in ports to lack of customs house agents in addition to workers like truck drivers,etc.
“Despite instructions from the government, which deem our services as essential, we continue to face manpower shortage that is hampering the movement of cargo. We continue to urge customs house agents as well as labour to support us in clearing the cargo as it might include crisis-essentials and we cannot let the CFS (container freight stations), yards or ports to get congested at this time,” he said, while speaking to a media house.
The government is however, trying to address the manpower shortage, as per reports by a Shipping official.
According to sources from Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India(ASSOCHAM), it will take at least three months from the end of lockdown for resumption of normal exports and imports.