A leading shipowners’ representative in India has called for Haldia Bulk Terminal and the Kolkata Port Trust to move quickly to resolve a dispute that has disrupted dozens of calls and which threatens to close two vital dry bulk berths in the Indian city for many months.
French shipping and logistics outfit Louis Dreyfus Armateurs and its Indian partner ABG pulled out of the joint venture-operated facility last month, claiming to have been subjected to a scale of criminal acts and political interference that made continued commercial activity impossible.
These included executives and their families being kidnapped and work being hampered to benefit a rival company owned by a ruling party MP, the ABG-LDA vehicle has said.
The withdrawal has led to some 600 workers being axed, and left an estimated 270,000 tonnes of cargo stranded on the quayside.
KPT has countered by threatening to launch a massive lawsuit for unlawful termination of contract, two years into a 10-year agreement.
Although the contract is to be retendered, the schedule makes it unlikely the terminal will get back up and running before March next year.
That is too long for Indian shipping to wait, according to Anil Devli, chief executive of the Indian National Shipowners’ Association, who has urged the two sides to seek a compromise, saying this is in the interests of all concerned.
Although he made it clear that he did not wish to take sides in the dispute, Mr Devli praised ABG-LDA for the improvements it has made since taking over Haldia.
“One of the reasons this port has suffered has been due to lack of modernisation,” he told Lloyd’s List.
“When this company came in and decided to invest in improving the infrastructure, it has brought better productivity at the quayside and a faster turnaround of ships.”
The port and the state and national governments should therefore do whatever is needed to maintain this standard of service, he said.
“As a shipowner and somebody thinking as an Indian citizen, it is important to ensure that the cost of logistics is under control. This is causing a fair bit of inconvenience to everybody.
“I don’t think it needs to wait until March [to restore services] if the government is proactive and if confidence is built in the minds of ABG-LDA that it will not face any difficulties in operations, I’m sure it can be convinced to come back.”
Although KPT is adopting a tough stance in its comments to the Indian press, Mr Devli says the firm line may be intended for public consumption, and that there should be room for a deal.
“I believe the best position to take is always to extend a hand of friendship,” he said.
“If both parties take a mature view, I think we will see a resolution and the ships and cargo interests can be saved a lot of trouble.”