Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust quarantined ship from Iran amid coronavirus

Iran ship quarantined at Jawahar Lal Nehru Port Trust | File photo
Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) in Navi Mumbai, the country’s largest container handler, said it had put a ship that came from Iran, ‘The Moon’, under quarantine for 14 days. The curbs ended on Monday (March 16).

It has Turkish and Indian crew. “The Turkish section had mixed with the local population in Iran for a sizable time period,” a top port official told this publication. “A report is being prepared. It will be reviewed by the port health officer and only after completion of the guided procedures will the vessel will be brought to the berth.” The vessel is carrying liquid ammonia.

Among countries in West Asia affected by coronavirus, Iran has the highest number of cases. It is also among the hardest hit countries outside of China.

“We cannot give a timeline as to when the vessel will be brought in for unloading,” said the official.

JNPT, with annual capacity of 7.5 million TEUs, has five terminals. Since the outbreak, the port had five container vessels skipping the schedule. This could mean flooding of vessels at the facility once situation starts to normalise. The port gets a monthly average of 125 sailings. With five ships skipping, it would mean about 20 sailings would be cancelled, since the same ship docks on a particular day every week.

A JNPT official said they were not worried about the additional load later. “Our utilisation is 5.13 million TEUs. This is much lower than the installed capacity. So, even if there is a rush at a later date, JNPT can handle it,” he said.

A majority of the port’s container vessels come via China, where the virus is believed to have been originated. “Almost everything comes to JNPT via China. Due to this, we at Customs are having no work at all for the past few weeks. It is absolutely at a standstill,” said a Customs official, on condition of anonymity.

Port officials, would not divulge traffic details. “Even the skips that JNPT has had so far are not necessarily because of coronavirus. It could also have been due to the holiday season in China on account of their new year,” said an official from its traffic department.

According to its container traffic data report for February, it handled 416,523 TEUs, down 0.9 per cent from that handled in January. It is estimated 15-20 per cent of its business could have been affected by now because of the virus crisis.

Alongside, the port has also been working on its staff that has to get on to vessels at the time of loading or unloading. “Initially, there was panic among the staff but we have held three-four meetings with them since January, clearing doubts and giving training and guidance. The staff has been cooperative and is ensuring that services are not hampered,” said a top official.

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), a Swiss-Italian international line and the world's second largest in container capacity, sees no impact on port functionality. “The port’s services continue to be up to mark,” said an MSC official.

The Union ministry of shipping has given guidelines for preventive measures to be followed for person-to-person contact but no guidelines are in place for cargo handling, said port officials.

“The cargo could be handled at multiple locations before coming to the port. It is important to fumigate the CFS (container freight station) and ICD (inland container depot) but there are no guidelines in that regard,” said the Customs official. JNPT has 35 CFS operator entities.

“If any treatment has to be given to the cargo, the Customs will have to decide as per the customs cargo service provider. Our members will have no say in that,” said an official with the port's CFS division. “As of now, apart from taking precautions, there is no major change. The number of boxes has reduced (which was expected) but it is not a major disruption so far.”

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