Govt restates demand for waiver of container detention charges

KARACHI: The government has reiterated its advice for shipping companies to waive container detention charges on stranded cargoes till April 30 as a gesture of goodwill like other regional peers in this difficult time, it was learnt on Friday.

Ministry of maritime affairs advised shipping companies and their agents to waive container detention charges and other levies from 25 March to 30 April on cargoes that couldn’t be cleared amid lockdown-driven lack of transportation.

“As we all are aware Pakistan is facing an unprecedented challenge in the form of COVID-19 and with the resultant slowdown in the economy the vulnerable segment of society will take the brunt,” the ministry said in a letter. “The need of the hour is to provide maximum relief to the business community as is already being done by the shipping companies in the region.”

The letter to All Pakistan Shipping Association and Pakistan Ships Agents Association, available with The News said the ministry is receiving requests from the trading community regarding their inability to evacuate cargo timely from the port areas due to the lockdown.

Ports are witnessing severe congestion as importers are unable to take delivery due to supply line disruption as the Sindh government couldn’t ease lockdown in absence of efficient mechanism to check health dangers posed by the novel coronavirus.

Delays in clearance of cargo are rendering heavy demurrage and container detention charges and traders are suffering massive financial losses.

Sea trade is vital for Pakistan’s economy reliant on imports. Economic growth already decelerated to 3.3 percent last year from 5.5 percent and expected to fall further to negative 1.5 percent this fiscal year – first time since the country’s partition from India. Traders complained that they were facing troubles in movement on roads.

The ministry said the waiver would certainly give an impetuous to seaborne trade and is likely to restart the logistical supply chain in Pakistan, “which is the need of the hour in these difficult times”.

“It is expected that such concessions will also bode well for shipping operations as cargo and freight movement offshore as well as inland will pick up,” it said. Port terminals and shipping lines were reluctant to waive demurrage and container detention charges as their businesses were also affected due to lockdown. Previously, an official of Hutchison Ports Pakistan said there was no notification from the ministry advising to waive terminal charges.

“However, we are already taking care of this issue on case to case basis, making decisions on merit,” the official said. “Though sea traffic slowed down, still the containers were piling up at their terminal. It is all about efficiency and availability of space, which we are maintaining with the terminal operating 24/7.”

An official at DP World said no decision had been taken regarding waiver of demurrage charges so far. “There is a difference between making an announcement and officially issuing a notification,” the official said.