India Works to Clear Hundreds of Containers Obstructing Ports

India ordered salvagers to remove hundreds of containers obstructing Mumbai’s ports by Aug. 14 as the government accelerates attempts to reopen the nation’s busiest cargo-box harbor.

“This work has to be speeded up,” Rakesh Srivastava, joint secretary for ports at the Ministry of Shipping said in an interview after a meeting to discuss the recovery measures today. Salvagers are retrieving only four to six boxes a day of the 300 floating and submerged, he said.

Jawaharlal Nehru Port and the smaller Mumbai Port remained closed today after halting operations yesterday. The closure of the two ports, which handle about 40 percent of India’s exports, has disrupted deliveries of oil to a local refinery and hindered shipments of grains and other exports. As many as 32 ships have been stranded in the ports or were waiting docking, according to the government.

“The closure will obviously have a big effect on our business,” said S. Hajara, chairman of Shipping Corp. of India, the country’s largest shipping line. “There is no compensation for losses as the closure of the port is not something that anyone is insured against.”

Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s MSC Chitra shed the containers after colliding with another vessel on Aug. 7, the shipping ministry said in a statement yesterday. The vessel is now listing after being deliberately beached.

The ship had 1,219 containers on board, of which 31 held hazardous chemicals and pesticides, Satish Agnihotri, India’s director general for shipping, said in Mumbai yesterday. Srivastava, the shipping ministry official, said that these containers were well-packed and were not expected to cause environmental problems.

Crude Supplies

There have been no further fuel leaks from the MSC Chitra, S.P.S. Basra, IG, Coast Guard (Western Region), told state-run Doordarshan television today. The coast guard is using chemicals to disperse the thickest parts of the spill, he said.

Bharat Petroleum Corp., a state refiner, said today that three ships carrying 1.5 million barrels of crude supplies for its 138,000 barrel-per-day refinery in Mumbai haven’t been able to unload due to the closure of the port. The refinery will instead use crude from a pipeline and from inventories.

India’s soybean meal exports through Jawahar Lal Nehru Port may be delayed by a week, according to Rajesh Agrawal, a spokesman for the Soybean Processors’ Association of India.

Air-Cargo Shipments

Shipping lines have stopped taking bookings for shipments through the Mumbai ports as they don’t know when operations will resume, R. Venkatesh, vice president of the Western India Shippers Association, which represents freight forwarders, said yesterday. The port closure is prompting some exporters to use air-cargo.

“Sending by air drives up costs by almost three times, but we have no choice,” said Noshir Balsara, a director of NRB Hydraulics Pvt., a maker of hydraulic fittings that has a container of goods stranded at Jawaharlal Nehru Port.

Shipping Corp. fell 1.2 percent to 167.45 rupees at the 3:30 p.m. close in Mumbai.

After the collision, about 200 liters of hydraulic oil leaked out from the MSC Chitra, while the 24 crew members were evacuated using tugs, the government said. Salvagers from Smit Internationale NV are working to stabilize the ship and its cargo. The vessel, built in 1980, has the capacity to carry 2,314 containers, according to data on the Bloomberg terminal.

Port Expansion

Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Nhava Sheva handled 4.1 million containers in the year ended in March, an increase of 2.8 percent, according to data on its website. That’s about 60 percent of nationwide container volumes. By comparison, Singapore, the world’s busiest container port, handled 25.9 million boxes last year.

“We will be suspending all export bookings for cargo loading at Nhava Sheva, including all booking acceptances at North India inland container depots for loading at Nhava Sheva, until further notice,” AP Moeller-Maersk A/S’ local unit said in an e-mail.

India’s government is behind its target of expanding capacity at its 12 major ports after global trade slumped amid a recession. The government-controlled ports will have a capacity to handle 743 million tons of cargo by March 31, 2012, compared with a target of 1.02 billion tons, K. Mohandas, the shipping ministry’s top bureaucrat, said in December.

Investment needs in the five years to March 2012 may drop 61 percent to 220 billion rupees ($4.7 billion), he said.

DP World Ltd., Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and a venture between Container Corp. of India Ltd. and AP Moeller-Maersk operate container terminals at Jawaharlal Nehru Port. Total cargo tonnage at the port, including commodities and other types of freight, rose 6 percent to 60.7 million tons last fiscal year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Siddharth Philip in Mumbai at sphilip3@bloomberg.net

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