Light at the end of the tunnel: Major Ports hope to return to pre-COVID levels in the coming months

Major Ports

The coronavirus pandemic had unleashed high tides of disruption in the Maritime Industry. But the Major Ports in India have gone above and beyond expectations and capacities to serve the nation at its time of need. We explore how the Major Ports are now on the road to reaching, and even superseding the level of operations and traffic that existed in the Pre-COVID months.

India’s Major Ports have played an instrumental role in extending support for ensuring smooth movement of essentials while also ensuring that the international trade continues unhindered and also that the economy continues moving ahead.

The COVID-19 impact at major ports can be traced from March 2020, when the first nationwide lockdown was announced. Recently, in reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said “There was a considerable decline in the total traffic, container traffic and non-container traffic in March, April, May, June, July and August, 2020 as compared to the corresponding months in 2019. However, recovery has started since June 20.”

Since June, the ports have picked up from where they had left, back in March.

Dr. Abhiijit Singh, Executive Director, Indian Ports Association(IPA) shared how there has been a marked decline in Major Ports, since months. He said, “There is a considerable decline in the months from March to May, 2020 as compared to March to May, 2019 both in terms of total traffic and containers (TEUs). Total traffic declined by (-) 5.25% during March, 2020, (-) 21.08% during April, 2020 and (-) 23.25% during May, 2020 as compared to the corresponding period of last year. In the container traffic, decline of (-) 10.46 %,(-) 33.79% and (-) 34.08% was witnessed in tonnage during March to May, 2020, whereas in TEUs decline was  (-) 12.51%, (-) 36.98% and (-) 35.58% during the same months.”

“However, the month from June to August 2020 shows the sign of recovery with total traffic decline dropped to (-) 10.23 % and containers decline dropped to (-) 8.79% in tonnage and (-) 13.8% in terms of TEUs in August’2020 as compared to the corresponding month in 2019”, he added.

Port Authorities have had to tackle uncountable problems with the onset of the pandemic, one of them being lack of manpower. The lockdown had caused a dip in the attendance of staff, which had also directly hampered operations.

“During the lockdown, the average staff attendance at Major Ports had dropped down to around 35%, which by the end of August had gone up to more than 80% with many ports working at full strength. Thus, Major Ports are already operating with almost full efficiency and are able to cater to the customers with high service levels”, says Dr Singh.

Major Ports: Revival of Traffic Volumes

While speaking on the prospect of port traffic returning to Pre-COVID levels, Dr Singh added, “As far as the traffic returning to the pre-COVID level is concerned, it depends on a lot of other factors, such as growth in overall economic activities in the country, industries working at their pre-COVID levels, situation of both domestic and export demand etc. Having said that, the data of daily traffic from Major Ports shows trend of recovery and the traffic levels are gradually growing since the end of May, when the daily traffic hit their lowest levels since lockdown. Given the trend, traffic at Major Ports will hopefully reach and even surpass the pre-COVID levels in coming months.”

Earlier this month, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT)- the biggest container handling port in India, reported a steady surge in cargo handling with the easing of lockdown restrictions and pick up in the domestic economic activity. The recent progress indicates early signs of recovery which is much needed especially after the disruption caused by the ongoing pandemic.

Despite the challenges that had unleashed upon the Port, JNPT handled a noteworthy 1,643,784 TEUs and 694 vessels in the lockdown period till 31st August 2020.

Earlier, the port faced a drop of over 35% in cargo handling in the initial lockdown period, slowly the decline has come down to 16.61% in August as compared to August 2019 and the port is trying to reach its pre-COVID performance levels and the numbers reaffirm that JNPT will maintain this growth trajectory.

The measures taken by JNPT for the stakeholders, port employees, shipping lines, and the local community have helped the port in improving its numbers month on month and JN Port registered a throughput of 3,52,735 TEUs in container handling in Aug 2020 as against 3,44,316 TEUs handled in July 2020.

Last month, JNPT had said it expected imports to get back to normal from the end of August while exports already witnessed an upward trend, resulting in an increase in the shipments in July.

The overall traffic handled at JNPT during the month of August 2020 was 4.74 million tons as against 5.68 million tons in August 2019.

Safety Measures in Place

The Shipping Ministry has issued necessary directions from time to time to all ports to put in place a screening, detection and quarantine system for disembarking seafarers or cruise passengers. Apart from this, the steps taken include obtaining self-declaration from arriving crews/passengers, installing thermal scanners and procuring Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), N-95 masks, among others, besides creating awareness among the travellers at ports.

“Major ports under the administrative control of Ministry of Shipping have taken several steps like formation of SoP (standard operating procedure) for disease surveillance/vessel and crew/passenger management, thermal scanning while moving outside port prohibited area, isolation wards at port hospitals,” Mr Mandaviya had said.

Upcoming Projects in Indian Maritime

While speaking about the projects at hand, Dr Abhijit Singh touched upon upcoming projects that are being pursued.

“An Enterprise Business System (EBS) is being implemented at 5 Major Ports (Mumbai,  Chennai, Deendayal, Paradip, Kolkata (including Haldia) Port with project cost of approx. 320 crores) to provide a digital port ecosystem that will adopt leading International Practices without losing its alignment to existing local needs”, he said. A total of 2474 processes (ChPT – 671, DPT – 376, KoPT – 501, HDC – 374, MbPT – 278 and PPT – 274) were rationalised, harmonised, optimised and standardised to arrive at a final re-engineered processes.

“IPA has also formulated a separate policy for setting up of FSRU in Indian Major Ports for the first time.  Accordingly, Ministry of Shipping based on its  Committee’s report issued policy guidelines for setting up of FSRUs”, he shared.

In addition to this, as per the directives of the Cabinet and provision of new Model Concession Agreement, a new dispute redressal institutional mechanism in the form of SAROD-Ports has been constituted  jointly with Indian Private Ports & Terminals Association (IPPTA) and Indian Ports association (IPA).

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