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India May Take Three Days to Clear Containers That Closed Ports

India said it may take as long as three days to clear hundreds of containers floating in sea lanes that forced the closure of Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port, the nation’s busiest container harbor.

Jawaharlal Nehru and the neighboring Mumbai Port were closed yesterday as salvagers worked to recover about 250 containers, which were shed by Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s MSC Chitra after a collision on Aug. 7, the shipping ministry said in a statement posted on the government’s website yesterday. The statement didn’t say when the ports may re-open.

The closure of the two ports, which together handle about 40 percent of Indian exports, will disrupt shipments of goods including petroleum products, grains and automobiles, according to R. Venkatesh, vice president of the Western India Shippers Association. Companies have already stopped accepting bookings, he said.

As many as 17 ships were stranded at the two ports and another 15 were waiting to dock following the shutdown, the ministry said. Venkatesh, whose group represents about 130 exporters and freight forwarders, said there hadn’t been a similar collision in the channels off Mumbai in his 30 years in the industry.

The MSC Chitra had 1,219 containers on board, of which 31 held hazardous chemicals and pesticides, Satish Agnihotri, India’s director general for shipping, told reporters in Mumbai yesterday. The Indian Navy is undertaking a survey of some containers that hit the bottom of the sea, according to the shipping ministry’s statement.

No One Hurt

The Chitra collided with the MV Khalijia 3 at 9:35 a.m. on Aug. 7, according to an e-mailed statement from Geneva-based MSC, the world’s second-biggest container shipping line by fleet size. No one was hurt onboard either vessel, the shipping line said. The Khalijia 3, owned by Kuwait-based Gulf Rocks Co., was able to safely dock after the collision.

The Chitra was deliberately beached following the incident and salvagers from Smit Internationale NV are working to stabilize the ship and its cargo, MSC said. The vessel, built in 1980, has the capacity to carry 2,314 containers, according to data on the Bloomberg terminal.

“MSC Chitra is dangerously listed to the port side and heavy oil spillage is sighted from her fuel tanks,” Agnihotri said.

Sodium Hydroxide

The beached ship was carrying hazardous chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, he said. Sodium hydroxide, which can cause chemical burns on unprotected skin, is used in the manufacture of paper, textile and soap.

Jawaharlal Nehru Port 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.

DP World Ltd., Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and a venture between Container Corp. of India Ltd. and AP Moeller-Maersk A/S 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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