Import-export business under threat as local agents fail to pay shipping lines – Reuters

  • CASA claims US$70 million owed to shipping lines in freight charges

By Nishel Fernando

Sri Lankan shipping agents have warned that shipping companies may stop accepting imported and exported goods to and from Sri Lanka because local agents have failed to pay US$70 million in freight charges owed shipping companies in recent months due to the currency crisis.

In a meeting with Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva on Tuesday, the Ceylon Shipping Agents Association (CASA), led by its president Shehara de Silva, discussed the major industry concerns and issues with the newly appointed Minister.

During the meeting, CASA pointed out that many of its members have been unable to remit freight charges collected from importers and exporters, on behalf of their respective shipping lines since last September, which have accumulated to more than 70 million US dollars. now.

Therefore, she warned that non-payment of accrued freight charges will force shipping companies to abandon their extensive services to Sri Lankan exporters and importers, halting almost all export and import shipments inland and outside the country.

As a solution, CASA proposed to the minister to allow shipping companies to pay port charges in rupees, until October this year.

The Minister agreed to discuss the issue with the Central Bank and find a solution.
Effective June 1, the government has decided to require all payments to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to be made in US dollars.

However, CASA members pointed out that some payments cannot be made in dollars, as they receive these payments in rupees, especially payments such as LCL fees, status change, electricity refrigeration fees and payments for conventional vessels such as break-bulk, occasional callers and tankers.

The minister acknowledged the difficulties in making such payments in dollars.
In the meantime, it has been brought to the Minister’s attention that around 800 containers have been detained by Sri Lanka Customs (SLC) inside the port of Colombo, occupying considerable space in the port, which slowed down activities in the port.

Shipping agents noted that some of the containers have been held for more than a decade as investigations are still ongoing, while some containers have been abandoned by consignees as they are unable to pay shipping costs. accumulated demurrage.

The Minister advised SLC officials to take immediate action to clear the detained containers. Additionally, CASA asked the Minister to take steps to increase the number of trucks dedicated to inter-terminal trucking services. Currently, one operator provides inter-terminal trucking services between terminals inside the Port of Colombo.

However, CASA pointed out that the number of trucks is not sufficient to meet the demand. Therefore, it sought either to increase the number of trucks provided by the current operator or to bring on another operator.

In addition, CASA also raised concerns about delays in implementing paperless commerce by SLC as well as a large number of authorities involved in boarding vessels.

The Minister expressed his intention to introduce a new, globally accepted digital system for port activities.