India’s container shipping market has “cooled” in recent weeks, but a lack of capacity at east coast ports is a headache for exporters.

Throughput figures from the Indian Ports Association show the country’s top 12 container ports enjoyed nearly 30% growth between April and October, with total volumes of 6.42m teu.

However, volumes at the east coast port of Kolkata were down 18% compared with 2019, in contrast to an average increase of 8% across the other major ports, during the same period.

According to local media, shipping lines have been taking empties from Kolkata to west coast ports rather than tranship cargo at delay-stricken transhipment hubs such as Colombo or Singapore.

As a result, east coast shippers have resorted to paying $1,500 to move cargo cross-country, where there is more capacity available. Rakesh Pandit, CEO of Conbox Logistics, said many Indian shippers were taking this route to meet export deadlines.

He told The Loadstar: “Even before Covid, connectivity from east coast ports of India was an issue. Now, due to the shipping crisis, exporters are finding it challenging to ensure timely export of goods.

“So they are planning the exports from the west India ports of Nhava-Sheva [Mumbai] and Mundra, where the situation is much better, in terms of bookings and connectivity to North America and Europe.”

Overall however, Mr Pandit said, the container shipping market “seemed to be cooling a bit”, compared with the mad rush to airfreight seen in September.

“The situation for exports to North America and Europe has improved, in terms of freight rates and bookings,” he explained. “There is a minor drop in freight rates for various ports and carriers have started providing bookings for destinations they were not accepting earlier.

“On the other hand, freight rates from India to the Gulf region have increased in the past two weeks and slot operators have increased costs. Overall, bookings for various sectors need an advance planning of at least two weeks to get competitive freight rates.”

Indeed, according to the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, India’s 43% year-on-year export growth last month has again highlighted the need to iron out kinks in the country’s container supply chains.

It said the “need of the hour” was to improve the flow of empty containers and to “establish a regulatory authority to seek justification of freight hikes and imposition of various charges by the shipping lines”.

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