Port terminals, shipping lines, importers in a fix

KARACHI: The port terminals are reluctant to waive demurrage charges, as this would mean their terminal yards converting into free warehouses for imported consignments.

An importer said getting clearance and taking delivery of imported consignments was already quite difficult, and even after taking delivery the containers could not be transported.

Confusion prevails among port terminals, shipping lines and importers on the issue of port demurrages and detention charges after Minister of Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi announced waiver of the same till April 15, 2020, but no notification in this regard was received by anyone.

President All Pakistan Customs Agents Association (APCAA) Arshad Jamal said port terminals were reluctant to waive demurrage and shipping lines had not waived container detention charges. “Minister Ali Zaidi made this announcement without meeting with the stakeholders. No notification has been issued so far, and even if does, terminal operators and shipping agents would go to court,” Jamal said.

“Minister should take all the stakeholders including port terminals, shipping lines and Customs agents on board, set parameters with consultation, and then issue a notification.”

Minister Zaidi announced that in order to facilitate exporters, port authorities had been advised to reduce or waive terminal, linear and demurrage charges as well as extend free time at ports.

Sara Khan at Hutchison Ports Pakistan said she had not seen any notification from ministry advising to waive terminal charges. “However, we are already taking care of this issue on case to case basis, making decisions on merit.”

She said although the sea traffic had slowed down but still the containers were piling up at their terminal. “It is all about efficiency and availability of space, which we are maintaining with the terminal operating 24/7.”

An official at DP World said no decision had been taken regarding waiver of demurrage charges so far. “There is a difference between making an announcement and officially issuing a notification,” he said.

The importers are in a fix due to the lockdown. Closure of markets has caused a serious liquidity crunch for the importers, who are unable to get their shipment documents released from banks and pay the government taxes.

Arshad Jamal said there was no recovery as markets were locked down, while government was insisting importers to pay taxes on their imported cargo and get deliveries. “Government should also impose a lockdown on all non-essential imports. Commercial imports have piled up at the ports, and in five days, there will be no space even to ground essential goods.”

An official said that there was no need for Customs staff for 24 hours every day. The traffic of containers had slowed down, and work was manageable during normal duty hours.

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