The Suez Canal blockage since March 23 is affecting India's shipping lines. As there are 200 vessels stuck in the north and south side of the canal, the number at the current rate is likely to go up to 350 in the next few days. To deal with the situation, the Centre has chalked out a four-point plan.
The government is prioritising the vessels which are carrying perishables and considering other measures including advising ships to re-route via Cape of Good Hope. This plan was chalked out in a meeting convened by the logistics division, department of commerce & Shipping and Waterways.
Egypt's Suez Canal, the 193 km artificial sea-level waterway, has been closed since March 23. It connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and provides the shortest and fastest sea link between Asia and Europe.
It was blocked after a 2.2 lakh tonne container ship was grounded in the canal on Tuesday morning leading to a huge pile-up and delay in the movement of vessels carrying consumer goods and oil.
The ministry of commerce and industry assesses that the losses due to the blockage could be in hundreds of crores. This route is used for Indian exports/imports worth US$ 200 billion to/from North America, South America and Europe.
It includes petroleum goods, organic chemicals, iron and steel, automobile, machinery, textiles and carpets, handicrafts including furniture, leather goods, etc. The commerce ministry's four-point plan to meet the exigency includes:
A) Prioritisation of cargo. Identify cargo particularly perishable cargo for priority movement and work with the shipping lines.
B) The government is working the channels to ensure that Freight Rates remain the same as per existing contracts.
C) The government has been making requests to the shipping lines to maintain stability in freight rates during the period of crisis.
D) The government to explore the option of re-routing of ships via the Cape of Good Hope. It will decide on rerouting as, compared to the Suez, the cape route usually takes 15 additional days' time.
In a statement, the commerce ministry said, "Blockage of Suez Canal since 23rd March 2021 is seriously hitting the global trade. It was noted in the meeting that over 200 vessels are waiting on the North and South sides of the Suez Canal and about 60 vessels are getting added to the queue on a daily basis."