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DG Shipping order to lift quarantine period likely to upset crew change business at Cochin Port

Resentment is brewing within the shipping community in Cochin Port Trust over a circular issued by the Director General of Shipping lifting the mandatory quarantine period of 14 days for ships arriving from ports of Covid-infected countries, saying it would upset the crew change business at ports.

The DG Shipping stipulation that crew from ships can only be disembarked after Covid testing on board, in addition to the standard operating procedure outlined earlier, would be detrimental to companies engaged in crew change, as it would incur additional expense.

“It appears that the order is based on the practice at Mumbai for alongside calls without taking into account the practices currently being followed at Kochi or other ports across the country,” said R Harikumar, President, Cochin Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The order issued on December 17, he said, would result in ships staying at anchorage for over two days, leading to higher charges when the industry is facing a severe financial crunch.

Higher port charges

C.S.Kartha, Managing Director of Kartha’s Shipping Solutions said that shipping companies or their agents have to make arrangements for RT-PCR testing for all crew disembarking from vessels in coordination with concerned port and health authorities.

For testing purposes, the agents have to hire port tugs to take lab officials to these vessels anchored in the outer channel and bring them back to the shore.

After the test results, tugs have to be re-deployed for crew transfer, doubling the tug hiring costs. The agents have to dole out Rs 60,000 per hour to the port for each voyage of tug that would take a minimum four hours for a trip.

Moreover, the 24-hour time period to avail the Covid test results would literally compel these vessels to stay at outer anchorage for nearly 48 hours.

With a charter hire of $30,000 per day, Kartha said the ships are likely to skip Indian ports to avoid payment of exorbitant port charges.

He pointed out that Cochin Port Trust has handled 500-plus vessels of all types for crew change operations since mid-May. The normal practice is that the agents have to hire port tugs for embarking and disembarking of the crew to the shore from these vessels and take them for Covid testing. These vessels prefer to stay at outer anchorage to avoid payment of port charges such as port dues, berth hire and pilotage. Moreover, the lack of required draught in the berths also forced them to stay out.

Logistics cost

However, government officials said that the circular was issued after maritime trade complained that the 14-day quarantine rule was delaying the berthing of container ships with a cascading effect on the container logistics chain, slower turnaround of container and shortage of containers for exports. This also contributed to the higher logistics costs for exporters.

Ships diverting to the outer anchorage of their Indian ports on their journey without docking at berths for loading/unloading operations are covered by the standard operating procedure issued by the DG Shipping earlier.
Source: The Hindu Business Line

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