Port congestion worries
Manufacturers keeping fingers crossed that delays will be cleared up soon

THE Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited (KFTL), operators of the Kingston Container Terminal, is now in a mad rush to clear congestion at the port as the busy Christmas period approaches. KFTL said the delays caused by the congestion "have been creating challenges for our importers and exporters". The Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), which said it is also monitoring the situation, noted that none of its members has reported being affected as yet.

The main issue stems from a surge in transshipment volumes from particular shipping lines whose feedering network has struggled to keep pace with the recent influx of containers. KFTL did not name the shipping line. It however pointed out that reducing the delays will take a few weeks, because cargo designated for Jamaica is combined with transshipment cargo on these vessels, making it unfeasible to separate local cargo from the transshipment goods. KFTL on its website said more than 1,000 full containers are delivered to Jamaican industries each week. It has the capacity to handle 2.8 million twenty-foot equivalent containers per year and is looking to increase that to 3.6 million twenty-foot equivalent containers.

According to KFTL, the congestion at the terminal has taken place despite efforts to ensure the smooth operation of the domestic market supply chain.

"It is important to note that KFTL does not have the authority to determine the routing, frequency, or priorities of vessels," the organisation stated. "However, we maintain constant communication with the shipping lines, providing them with the necessary data to expedite a resolution as quickly as possible."

THWAITES... I think everyone is just hoping that [KFTL] are right and they can clean it up in the next couple of weeks.

"Based on our discussions with the lines in question, we anticipate that the situation will return to normalcy in mid-November," KFTL stated. "This timeline largely depends on their execution of the transshipment evacuation plan. As the lines clear their transshipment cargo, creating much-needed space, vessels are expected to resume normal operations."

With businesses concerned about the implications of this predicament ahead of the Christmas season, KFTL has met with the JMEA.

Following the meeting, JMEA President Sydney Thwaites, in a measured response, explained that while companies are experiencing delays on incoming freight the JMEA will be focused on monitoring and taking a pragmatic approach to the situation.

"We're staying close to our members and trying to keep our finger on what our members are feeling, and I think everyone is just hoping that [KFTL] are right and they can clean it up in the next couple of weeks and then we can get some normalcy as we approach the holidays," he commented. "Obviously, everybody is relying on a lot of imported raw materials for our manufacturers, which is our focus. We haven't really seen an impact on the export market yet, I don't think. We haven't heard of any issues on the outbound freight. So, I think the risk we run is if it doesn't get cleaned up in the next couple of weeks, the retailers who are relying on imported products over the holidays, is that going to cause any interruptions?"

The JMEA president, nevertheless, remains hopeful.

"I don't think we're sitting on a situation where we're seeing a month or more of a delay," Thwaites said. "So if they're able to clean it up, I think we're in a situation where at least now our companies know and can start to have an active role in whether the ship goes to another port and how they get it transloaded and they can start to manage that through their forwarders. So it's good to have the information but none of our members have come to me and said 'look, it's killing my business'. I haven't seen that yet."

KFTL has reiterated its commitment to resolving the problem, minimising its impact and offering regular services to shipping lines unaffected by transshipment issues.

Thwaites was grateful for KFTL's outreach to the JMEA while expressing a nuanced appreciation of the complex factors contributing to the delays.

"I think the transparency, first of all, is good. They actually called the JMEA to hold a conference call and update on the situation," the JMEA president commented. "It's kind of a two-pronged thing because the reason our port is competitive is because of the transshipment volume coming through Jamaica. So that volume allows our port a better service, more service to the region and more competitive rates than we would have had just relying on our own economy. So, the concept of the transshipment and the fact that the volume at our port is over 80 per cent transshipment is something that benefits us, our companies, [and] our economy."

BY ALEXIS MONTEITH Observer business writer

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