Muscat: Shipping agents, importers and exporters have urged Oman International Container Terminal (OICT), which manages the container terminal at Sohar port, and other government agencies to urgently resolve the delay in clearing their containers and other cargos.
According to shippers, they have been experiencing a long delay in getting their consignments from the port, after a major chunk of Muscat port's activities shifted to Sohar in view of the fact that the August 31 deadline to completely shift Muscat port's activities to Sohar is fast approaching.
A section of importers even revealed they have been forced to rely on neighbouring Jebel Ali port for importing products and transporting these by road.
Oman International Container Terminal chief executive officer Capt Rashid Jamil Syed, while addressing an interactive meeting with shippers and consignees to find solutions to the burning issue on Thursday, promised the port users that all their issues will be resolved within two to three months.
The recent unexpected congestion at the OICT has severely impacted the port users.
Exporters and importers at Sohar said that the issues mainly concern lack of manpower, capacity and procedural delays.
"We have containers sitting at the port waiting for clearance for over two weeks. Food inspectors are not available to clear the containers. How do you expect to clear the backlog in the next two weeks?" Pankaj Khimji, director of Khimji Ramdas, said, while expressing the general sentiment of importers and shipping agents.
Capt Jamil Syed admitted that the port had some challenges during Ramadan, and said, "Everybody came in just after Iftar."
"The gates are much smoother at this point of time," added the OICT chief.
Sohar port gears up for challenges
The OICT official added that the port has identified some challenges and problems regarding pick-up, exports and other related issues and has taken certain corrective measures to ease the gate process as well as to strengthen staff and equipment.
"Sohar (port) takes a lot of time in clearing cargo. Our suppliers have refused to ship (consignments) to Oman," noted Mohammed Abu Al Fath, commercial manager at Poly Products, which imports fabrics, steel wires and chemicals from Italy, Germany, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, China and the United States.
The inter-active meeting was attended by Dr.Ahmed Mohammed Salem Al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications, Said bin Hamdoon Al Harthy, undersecretary at the Ministry of Transport and Communications and several other senior officials from Sohar port. "We will come out with suggestions to make this migration a success," noted Dr Al Futaisi.
Khimji, whose business group has a major shipping agency and a huge import business, said, "We need to find a solution to the issue. We need to work together; even if it means hiring people from the Sultan Qaboos Port."
"We will resolve all issues related to misplaced containers within six days," claimed Capt Jamil Syed, adding that the OICT will be bringing in 120 additional people, just to operate trucks and cranes.
Further, ten hectares of stacking space will be made available by mid-October. "The first step is to increase capacity. We have already started construction to develop another 10 hectares of space."
Also, continual use of terminal B for empty storage provides additional 7,500 ten foot equivalent unit (TEU) capacity.
The second step, he said, is to substantially increase the number of cranes and other equipment at the port.
The port is acquiring eight additional rubber tyred gantry cranes (RTGCs), taking the total number of such cranes to 22. "We will get four such cranes by September 1, with another four by the end of September. We have also bought another four reach stackers – two will be inducted in August another two in September." Yet another four empty handlers will be bought, which will come by end-August and September in two batches. Capt Jamil Syed also noted that the OICT has also reduced unproductive moves, which reduces time. "Each container is released once it is fully inspected, and therefore, there is no need to wait for the whole lot to be inspected," added Capt Jamil Syed.
For speeding up the payment process, the OICT official said as a temporary measure, cash counters have been increased to six and there will be segregation of counters by function in separate areas.
Also, plans are afoot to set up a new documentation centre with a large customer waiting area, which will become operational by August 25.
Sayyed Al Sibal, chief executive officer of Green Cover, suggested that the OICT should compensate for the delay in clearing consignments by waiving off port charges.
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