In an effort to increase the availability of containers for exports, the Commerce Ministry has urged the shipping and health department to reduce the mandory 14-day quarantine period for shipping vessels arriving from China. Sources said the Commerce Ministry is seeking the quarantine period to be reduced to just seven days.
The Directorate General of Shipping, in March, had issued an advisory to ports for handling vessels. It had ordered that vessels arriving from any port in China will have to mandatorily undergo a 14-day quarantine before docking at an Indian port. In the second half of 2020, industry experts said a sudden improvement in exports and a slump in imports created an unforeseen shortage of containers for exports. They pointed out that the waiting period for access to a container for exporters is now three weeks, compared to a maximum of four days earlier.
The container shortage was attributed to the government imposed nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19 in April. The industry experts said when the lockdown was at the peak, and trading was down, the shipping lines had also cut the capacity, and ally transportation systems like trucks were also unavailable. Sunil Vaswani, Container Shipping Lines Association (CSLA) executive director, told ET that shipping lines which until July 2020 used to ship out empty containers from India, had to start repositioning empty boxes into the country and move them inland to demand locations at a huge cost for the shipping lines.
The Federation of Indian Export Organizations (FIEO) is for the reduction of the quarantine period. It said cutting down the quarantine time to seven days would help in reducing freight costs and augumenting availability of containers. Ajay Sahai, FIEO Director General, explained this as a logical move that would help reduce freight cost and make containers available. “Many shipping lines were not calling on Indian ports due to the 14-day quarantine period. The reduction in quarantine period would send a positive signal to such lines,” he said.