Port operators say clearance delays to shorten
Local manufacturers, distributors, other businesses, and citizens who have been deeply impacted by the congestion at the Port of Kingston can expect steady improvement in the clearance of their goods.
Concerns were recently raised by the stakeholders in the port and shipping industry, including the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association, about congestion and a backlog at the port, which had led to shortages in glass and plastic bottles.
The vexing issue was said to be compounded by delays associated with a new policy implemented by the Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA).
However, the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) says it has put measures in place to address the issue while working with the Kingston Freeport Terminal Ltd (KFTL) and that it is already seeing significant improvement.
“As a result of these actions, the backlog has declined from six weeks to two weeks, and efforts are under way to reduce this to one week in the immediate future and thereafter to eliminate this backlog as quickly as possible,” the agency said.
“The situation is being monitored daily and weekly to ensure that domestic distributors and manufactures receive the cargo required for the end-of-year peak demand by consumers,” the PAJ said in a release.
The measures include facilitating vessels with the largest amount of domestic cargo by giving them priority in the sequence with which the backlogged vessels are being processed. Additionally, ports have been mandated to segregate cargo destined for the domestic market from transshipment cargo when stocking the vessels.
The PAJ explained that there are several factors contributing to the congestion, including global issues.
“Large cargo ships are now arriving at the port entirely full. Often, several of these ships arrive simultaneously or within days of each other,” the agency said. “The normal yard-planning processes to manage the available storage space for cargo on the terminal are negatively impacted as a result.”
Furthermore, it said that the excessive volumes when the ships are offloaded requires all the available storage spaces at KFTL.”
Noting that the Port of Kingston also serves as a feeder port to smaller regional ports, the PAJ shared that the slow pace of collection of cargo by feeder vessels and local importers is also contributing to the congestion and space problems.
However, the PAJ said that the KFTL, the JCA, and Port Management Security Ltd have collaborated to expand opening hours at the terminal to facilitate the collection of domestic cargo.
The KFTL has also extended the gate operating hours from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m., Mondays to Thursdays, and to 4:00 p.m. on Fridays. Additional delivery slots have been included in the daily Port Community System (PCS) Truck Appointment System to facilitate the clearance of domestic cargo.
But to maximise capacity, the PAJ is encouraging stakeholders to use the system to book dates to collect their goods.
In the meantime, the Shipping Association of Jamaica (SAJ) says the issues at the ports are hampering the operation of its members.
“While they face higher operational costs, inability to meet customer demand due to factors well beyond their control adversely impacted their enterprises and, by extension, customers,” the SAJ said.
The association further noted that while shipping costs are seeing a decline globally as the worst of supply-chain challenges are resolved, its members will not see an immediate benefit as the costs remain significantly elevated when compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“Uncertainty will continue to play a large role in how quickly prices improve with the possibility of further disruptions, but our members are prepared to adapt accordingly,” the SAJ told The Gleaner.
In the meantime, the SAJ said the shipping industry continues to gradually recover from peak pandemic impacts, but while there has been some reprieve globally, as port congestion eases and the container crisis is allayed, much uncertainty remains.