Racking up the bill: Thousands of NATO containers stranded

By Kazim Alam, The Express Tribune

KARACHI: The ban on Nato supplies routes through Pakistan may have officially been lifted three weeks ago but the containers carrying goods for international forces stationed in Afghanistan remain stranded at the Karachi Port Trust (KPT).

The cargo has stood there for almost eight months now.

According to KPT General Manager (Operations) Rear Admiral Azhar Hayat, not a single container or vehicle of Nato supplies has left the KPT premises since July 3, when Pakistan officially reopened the ground lines of communication.

Islamabad had blocked Nato supplies on November 26, 2011, after the killing of two dozen soldiers in a Nato-led air raid on the Salala border post.

“There has been no clearance of Nato cargo at KPT so far, but we expect the process will begin in the current week,” Hayat told The Express Tribune adding there was no hindrance on the part of the KPT as consignees needed to get their cargoes cleared from the customs department.

There are 3,851 vehicles and 1,983 containers belonging to Nato currently stranded at the KPT.

When the supply routes were resumed some three weeks ago, port authorities expected to receive up to Rs2.2 billion from Nato for storing its containers and vehicles for an extended period of time. Known as demurrage charges, the expected amount has now exceeded Rs2.5 billion, according to Hayat.

At the average rate of 250 units per day, port authorities estimate it will take them roughly 24 days to clear the backlog, according to the KPT official. “However, the process is likely to take more time now, as productivity levels drop slightly during Ramazan, especially in government-run organisations,” he explained.

Moreover, the KPT has not entertained any vessels carrying Afghanistan-bound cargo in the last three weeks. Hayat offered no comment when asked about the possible reason for the delay on the part of Nato authorities to get their cargoes released from the KPT.

While talking to The Express Tribune two weeks ago, Hayat had said that the delay in Nato’s cargo clearance at the KPT was because it first wanted to clear supplies that were still on the highways or stranded on the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Besides the KPT, incoming Nato containers are also handled at Port Qasim by the Karachi International Container Terminal (KICT) — a container terminal operator based within Port Qasim with five berths of its own.

When contacted, the spokesperson for Port Qasim was unavailable, and no one from the KICT gave comments.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24, 2012.

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