- SLPA says all imported containers at Colombo Port free of any terminal rent from March 16 to April 9
- Import Section of Ceylon Chamber however says shipping lines haven’t granted demurrage-free times to importers
- Requests govt. to halt charging any rent or demurrage on imported consignments until April 30
- 28,000 containers stuck at port likely to take 30 more days to clear
By Nishel Fernando
Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) assures that all imported containers at Colombo Port are free of any terminal rent from March 16, 2020 to April 9 and in addition SLPA-operated Jaya Container Terminal has also exempted their imported containers from penal charges up to April 30.
“All imported FCL, LCL, MCC and MCC/transhipment containers from March 16 to April 9, 2020 will be free of any terminal rent as per the instructions issued by the Secretary, Ministry of Ports
As the period from April 10 to April 13,2020 were public holidays, all above mentioned containers will be considered as discharged on April 13,” SLPA Managing Director Capt. Athula Hewavitharana informed key stakeholders issuing relevant guidelines when deciding on rent free time and charges this Tuesday.
The Import Section of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) writing to the Presidential Task Force Chairman Basil Rajapaksa last Sunday lamented that despite port terminals extending demurrage-free time consequent to the government intervention, most shipping lines have not clearly granted container demurrage-free times to importers.
“Most importers couldn’t clear their consignments by sea and air due to the government’s decision to prioritise clearance of essential goods initially.
“Due to continuous curfew under lockdown, particularly in the Western Province and the restrictions on people and vehicle movements , the accumulation of approximately 28,000 containers now at the Port will incur undue and unfair costs on importers,” the Import Section of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said.
However, the SLPA in its guidelines noted that any consignee who had paid rent for any period falling from March 16 to April 13 would receive a full refund for the period.
Further, it stressed that for containers discharged before March16, normal tariff would be applicable, although, no rent will be charged from March 17 to April 13.
Meanwhile, one of the two private container terminal operators at Port of Colombo, South Asia Gateway Terminals (SAGT) has decided to grant their customers free terminal storage for a period of 31 days from March 14 to April 13, according to SAGT Chief Commercial Officer
In addition, SAGT has also extended free storage for unaccompanied personal baggages of returning Sri Lankans by further seven days up to April 20.A senior SLPA official told Mirror Business that SLPA would only require basic charges for imported consignments up to 30th of this month, waving off penal charges.
However, he noted that private container terminal operators might not be in a position to offer such concessions considering that they have incurred additional expenses since
Muttiah noted that SAGT has been operating 24 hours delivering containers despite the curfew imposed by the government to fight the spreading of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Import Section of the Ceylon Chamber requested the government to issue a directive to halt charging any rent or demurrage on imported consignments until April 30 and suggested to charge only 50 percent of such charges up to May 7 on the assumption that the restrictions would be eased after the first week of May.
It also sought government interference to refund electricity charges on reefer containers during the full lockdown period.
Justifying the demand, the organisation noted that 28,000 containers, which are stuck at the Port, are likely to take 30 more days to clear.
However, some stakeholders in the shipping sector opined that these figures are too pessimistic.
“If we make it rent-free, some could get discouraged to clear their cargos,” a SLPA official said.
However, the management committee of SLPA is scheduled to meet today to discuss the concessions requested by the importers.
Further, the Import Section of the Ceylon Chamber has also requested the government to issue a directive to banks, shipping lines, freight forwarders and all other border agencies to operate from 8.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. under essential services, until the situation in the country returns to normalcy.
It blamed that the restricted hours of operations of these institutes and firms were partly blamed for the delay in clearing imported consignments.
However, a top official of Sri Lanka Customs (SLC) urged the importers to submit their documents online to avoid long queues at the premises while noting that SLC has to implement health and safety measures to protect the employees and visitors, which has been a key reason for long queues.
The Import Section of the Ceylon Chamber noted that the inability to operate businesses has caused severe cash flow issues to SME importers.