Robust cargo handling at Pakistani sea ports

It is heartening to note that the cargo handling activities at the two ports located in Karachi – Port Bin Qasim and Karachi Port have recorded an impressive growth of 25% and 13.72% in FY21. This increase can be attributed to 18% in exports and 26pc rise in the country’s exports and imports, respectively.

Reportedly, exports in FY21 rose to US$25.3 billion from US$22 billion in FY20. Imports rose to US$56 billion from US$44.5 billion during this period. This kept goods movement at twin ports alive amid issues like lockdown, port congestion, higher freight charges etc. all over the world.

Despite COVID related challenges, Pakistan’s trade remained on upward trajectory on the back of their achievement with an initiative of imposing smart lockdowns and keeping logistics moving.

Pakistani ports ensured business continuity and alleviated the pandemic impact on the maritime sector. However, the downside was the traditional ports facing congestion and efficiency issues in delivery service to the end-users and increase cost to shipping lines, whereas Hutchison Ports Pakistan (HPP), the only deep-water container port, remained productive with its cutting-edge technology and modern infrastructure.

Smart lockdowns help boost country’s external trade, which helped other terminals and trade in reducing congestion impact by handling the extra vessel calls at HPP.

The soaring freight charges were related more to logistics imbalance due to container shortages, skip port calls by the shipping lines, reduction of vessel capacity and partial closure of major ports around the world. This has ultimately increased trade due to increase in exports from Pakistan on the back of importing raw material, machinery items etc. to meet the demand.

Till 3QFY21, the country was also affected by lockdowns, but port cargo handling picked up momentum from the fourth quarter after local situation improved and exports to the US, European Union and China recorded significant increases.

Pakistan has started receiving substantial orders of textile and other value-added items, whereas other regional countries notably India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Sri Lanka were endeavoring to curb Covid infection rate by strict lock downs.

The total cargo handling grew substantially to 52.279 million tons in FY21 from 41.840 million tons in FY20.

In imports, total volume was reported at 36.469 million tons in FY21 as compared to 27.206 million tons in FY20. The share of total dry cargo went up by 36.53% to 24.670 million tons in FY21 from 18.069 million tons in FY20 in which dry general cargo and dry bulk cargo contributed 18.170 million tons and 6.5 million tons as compared to 15.358 million tons and 2.711 million tons, up by 18% and 140% over FY20. Total liquid bulk import cargo handling grew by 29% to 11.799 million tons from 9.137 million tons in 2019-20.

In exports, KPT’s total cargo volume improved by 8% to 15.810 million tons from 14.634 million tons which included 9.689 million tons of dry general cargo and 5.584 million tons of dry bulk cargo during 2020-21 as compared to 8.841 million tons and 5.130 million tons in 2019-20. The volume of liquid bulk export cargo fell by 19% to 0.537 million tons from 0.663 million tons.

A 15.34% rise was registered in container handling in twenty-foot equivalents (TEUs) to 2.988 million tons from 1.992 million tons. Out of the above figures, the number of imported TEUs was 1.155 million tons in 2020-21 as against 1.001 million TEUs in 2019-20. Export TEUs stood at 1.142 million versus 0.991m in 2019-20.

Arrival of ships at the Karachi port increased by 21.5% to 1,813 from 1,492 in FY20. Out of total ship movement, number of container ship rose by 17% to 869 from 743 followed by 61.5% rise in bulk cargo ship to 281 from 174, five percent rise in general cargo ship to 169 from 161 and 19 percent hike in oil tankers to 494 from 414 ship in FY20.

Meanwhile, cargo handling activities at the Port Bin Qasim also swelled to million tons in 2020-21 from 51 million tons in 2019-20. In 2016-17, total cargo handling was 37.3 million tons. As per data available at PQA’s website, arrival of ships at the PQA rose to 1,709 in FY21 from 1,520.

With increasing exports orders, improving economic indicators, imports of automotive, spare parts, machinery, food items and raw material, Pakistani port handling improved significantly. During FY21, Pakistan was also able to achieve its largest ever exports of $25bn largely contributed by value-added items to US, EU, UK, and China, he said.

Pakistan exports during the first month of FY22 posted a year-on-year highest-ever growth of 17.3% to US$2.34 billion. Considering this achievement along with an ambitious plan of achieving US$38.7 billion to US$40 billion exports during FY22, the government has extended the duty-free import regime to more raw materials.

Imports also swelled during past couple of months, which although put a negative mark on current account, however this has increased port handling. Land route trade agreements with CARs is also expected to increase Pakistan ports cargoes, he hoped.

With these developments, Pakistani port handling during FY22 is expected to remain brisk. Pakistan’s import in July went up by a whopping 52% to US$5.6 billion from US$3.67 billion in July 2020.

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