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India Tells Salvagers to Speed Removal of Containers Blocking Busiest Port

India told salvagers to accelerate the removal of hundreds of containers ditched into the sea off Mumbai’s coast as the nation’s busiest cargo-box harbor remained closed for a third day.

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

The boxes must be removed by Aug. 14 to pave the way for the re-opening of Jawaharlal Nehru Port and the smaller Mumbai Port, which together handle about 40 percent of India’s exports, Srivastava said. The shutdown has disrupted deliveries of oil to a local refinery, hindered shipments of grains and forced container terminal operators to suspend export bookings.

“You cannot afford to have ports closed for a week,” R. Venkatesh, vice president of the Western India Shippers Association, which represents about 130 exporters and freight forwarders, said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “The reaction should have been much speedier.”

Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s MSC Chitra shed the containers after colliding with another vessel on Aug. 7, according to the shipping ministry. The ship, built in 1980, is now listing after being deliberately beached.

Stranded Ships

The Chitra had 1,219 containers on board, of which 31 held hazardous chemicals and pesticides, according to Satish Agnihotri, India’s director general for shipping.

The containers are well-packed and aren’t expected to cause environmental problems, Srivastava said. India’s coast guard has stopped oil spilling from the listing ship, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told parliament yesterday.

As many as 32 ships have been stranded in the ports or were waiting to dock because of the shutdown, according to the government. AP Moeller-Maersk A/S’s Indian unit, which runs a terminal at Jawaharlal Nehru Port with Container Corp. of India Ltd., said it had suspending all export bookings. DP World Ltd. and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust also operate container terminals at the harbor.

Oil Tankers

Bharat Petroleum Corp., a state refiner, said yesterday 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 Jawaharlal Nehru Port may be delayed by a week, according to Rajesh Agrawal, a spokesman for the Soybean Processors’ Association of India.

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. An official at Smit’s office in Singapore declined to comment on the work.

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.

Total cargo tonnage at Jawaharlal Nehru 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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