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Hundreds of China-origin containers lying uncleared at Indian ports

J.M.Baxi - Visakha Container Terminal1.jpg
Hundreds of such containers that left China after the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) are stuck at various Indian port due to lack of documentation providing details of goods inside the boxes.

Containers are piled up at terminals including the country’s primary container port, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), Chennai, Mundra, Visakhapatnam and Vallarpadam (Cochin),

Details such as the crucial Bill of Entry (BoE), which the Indian consignees require for Customs clearance, would normally have been provided by the Chinese consignors, whose offices have been shut since quarantine was imposed in Wuhan and in sections of some other Chinese port cities.

“The consignee or his agents need to file BoE with the Customs within 24 hours of the container’s arrival in the port,” said a Mumbai-based C&F (clearing and forwarding) agent. “If not, the authorities levy a penalty of INR5,000 ($70) per day for the first three days from the date of arrival, and INR10,000 per day thereafter. The penalty could run into millions of rupees if the cargo is not cleared in a few days.”

It is understood that, in a recent post-Budget interaction with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Chennai, S Nataraja, president of the Chennai Customs Brokers’ Association (CCBA), had apprised her of the difficulty in obtaining BoEs, and urged her to waive off the late penalty charges for China-origin goods arriving at Chennai port.

“Importers are unable to produce/receive the documents from their suppliers as Chinese offices were closed, first during the Chinese New Year holidays, and then, due to the virus outbreak,” Nataraja is reported to have told Sitharaman. “It is a genuine case, and the minister has asked me to give details of the affected parties to the Customs Department for waiver of penalty.”

A circular issued by the Commissioner of Customs, Chennai, on 14 February 14 could give some reprieve for those seeking a penalty waiver for goods landed from China. To avoid recalling and reassessing the procedure for waiver of late fee, a separate option has been provided for waiver of late filing charges to de-link it with assessment.

Read all Seatrade Maritime News coverage on the impact of the coronavirus on shipping

The entire global supply chain has been badly impacted due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has led to large-scale disruption in shipping services. Sectors that are most likely to be hit immediately are mobile phones and pharmaceuticals, since India imports vast quantities of raw materials and components for these from China.

It could cause a short-term rise in the prices of simple items of daily use, such as paracetamol; and a serious shortage within a month or two, if the quarantine in China persists.