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Cargo is being abandoned at Indian airports amid the “chaos” caused by the country’s three-week nationwide lockdown.
Having started on Sunday in some cities, the anti-coronavirus measures were extended on Wednesday to include the entire 1.3 billion population until 15 April.
Cargo movement is supposed to be exempt from the lockdown restrictions, but there are widespread reports of disruption across land, sea and air.
“Due to city-wide lockdown, vehicles are not moving freely and are being detained by law enforcement agencies, if the commodity is not of an ‘essential’ nature,” according to Geodis.
“General cargo haulage is not happening, and no trucker is willing to risk carrying general cargo shipments to and from airports. Import cargo not being cleared due to the non-availability of a customs house agent or loaders, is being abandoned in the airport.
“This will add to the chaos and cause damage, pilferage and loss. Even after clearance, truckers are not willing to take cargo for delivery in urban areas.
“Also, all inter-city borders are closed. Other than ‘essential commodities’ – nothing is moving,” Geodis added.
According to Agility, airport operations are significantly impacted, with freighter movements impeded due to manpower restrictions. And Cathay Pacific said today it was cancelling a number of freighter flights to India, or omitting stops in the country, including Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi.
RS Subramanian, MD of DHL Express, confirmed to the Economic Times: “While freighters are allowed to fly, our airport facilities are choked to the point where we can’t even offload boxes from the aircraft.
“There is acute short-staffing. We usually have over 200 people at the Delhi airport cargo terminal, now we have 10.”
The Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT) estimated some 500,000 drivers have been left stranded and prevented from crossing state-borders, with police reportedly stopping drivers amid confusion over what is or isn’t an “essential” service.
Furthermore, drivers still on the roads are struggling to find food and supplies, since most restaurants and businesses are closed.
Karthi Baskar, deputy managing director of Kintetsu World Express (India), said the trucking problem was due to a lack of government permits.
Hundreds of thousands of additional drivers have “fled” back to their villages to escape the virus, reports suggest, leaving cargo at ports in Mumbai and Chennai.
A 14-day quarantine on ships calling at Indian ports is also causing delays and added costs, with APL announcing today it would apply a port congestion surcharge on cargo bound for Kolkata. Only port calls from the most coronavirus-affected countries are subject to quarantine, however.
The crisis has caused a string of private ports to declare force majeure, including Adani Ports, the country’s largest private operator. The 12 largest ports run by the government have also apparently been “given the option” to do the same by the ministry of shipping, according to P&I Services.
The cargo bottlenecks and disruptions have forced some forwarders to tell customers nearly all trade with India is on hold.
“The lockdown is expected to impact almost all major cities in India, and will include a near total stop for cargo movement on both ocean freight as well as airfreight,” said Scan Global Logistics.