Indian ports and airports affected as COVID-19 lockdown hits operations

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Following the lockdown imposed to tackle India’s COVID-19 outbreak, all the major ports are experiencing delays due to less manpower

The restrictions on the normal functioning of ports and airports in the world’s seventh-largest economy have left sellers in confusion regarding the flow of goods in and out of the country. Although shipping has been deemed an ‘essential service’ by the government, the shipments are being postponed in most of the major ports and terminals due to lack of manpower.

Lack of labour

As stated by PL Haranadh, the Deputy Chairman at Visakhapatnam Port Trust, one of the 12 major ports in India, “Operations have slowed because several staff may be reluctant to come to work fearing health issues. With limited resources, we’re doing our best to ensure that supplies of essential commodities, such as coal, crude oil and containers are maintained.” Although oil operations have so far remained unaffected, most of the ports in India are operating with minimal workforce.

Special cargo flights are operating

Presently all passenger aircrafts are banned although freighter aircrafts carrying cargo including medical equipment are being operated in various parts of the country. The main challenge is to move the cargo from air cargo complexes to the consignee warehouses for imports and sending the cargo to the air cargo complexes for exports. According to Sheen, the Team Leader of the International Business Department of FEI Cargo Ltd, “Unless the transportation embargo is not lifted, we doubt if the freighters announced by the various airlines will be able to come because the air cargo complexes will not have the space to receive the cargo.”

CSF/ICDs are short-staffed

Across all the CFSs and ICDs in the country, only pharmaceutical and perishable cargo is being handled. Although the central government has rolled out circulars stating that the CHAs are part of essential services, the local administration is not permitting the staff to reach the ports/airports/CFSs/ICDs to carry out the clearance.

Present Customs Clearance scenario

Very few customs officials are reporting for duty, and only the containers with factory stuffing permission or those containing emergency items are allowed to be cleared. All the other boxes are being held in abeyance. In the words of RS Subramanian, the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of DHL Express, “Customs is always short staffed. Now the officials have given a notification of working for 12 hours (even though the finance minister has announced they will be working 24×7).”

Trucking

Lack of drivers and the ongoing police intervention in the movement of trucks are becoming a major supply chain concern. Most of the drivers are abstaining from work because of the strict measures imposed due to lockdown.

On the brighter side, all supply chain operations are being reviewed regularly and trade bodies are making repeated representations to the government on instructing the law enforcement agencies to permit workers in the supply chain sector to carry on with their jobs.