Bangalore: Ships calling at the Kolkata port to load and unload cargo containers will impose a congestion surcharge of $250 (about Rs12,000) per standard container from 15 October as depth restrictions and a lack of storage space in the port are hurting trade.

The port authorities have suspended fresh berthing permission to container ships until 18 October to clear the current backlog of vessels waiting to enter the port.

Piling up: Containers stacked at Kolkata port last week. Some 5,900 standard import containers and about 2,000 standard export containers are lying at the port waiting to be cleared. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint

The Kolkata port, operated by the state-run Kolkata Port Trust, handles about 25,000 standard containers a month.

“From September, container ships calling at Kolkata/Haldia are facing delays due to depth restrictions and lack of space to store containers," said an executive at the state-run Shipping Corp. of India Ltd. “This becomes a cost for shipping lines. Hence, we are imposing a congestion surcharge."

Container ships calling at the port take about six days to unload and load containers and sail off, a process that needed two days or less earlier, said an executive at Bengal Tiger Line Pte Ltd.

“It’s a disaster," he said. “The storage yards are overflowing. Containers are all over the port and the place is chock-a-block."

Tewari said the situation would have a “very adverse impact on exports and imports from the region". Some 5,900 standard import containers and about 2,000 standard export containers are lying in the port waiting to be cleared, he said. “Nothing more can be brought in because there is no space."

The problem will lead to a huge backlog in ports such as Colombo and Singapore, Tewari said. As large ships cannot call at the Kolkata port because of its inadequate depth, they transfer the Kolkata-bound cargo to smaller ships at Colombo or Singapore. Tewari added the government should dredge the port’s channel to create more depth. Equipment breakdown and narrow roads leading to the port also make it tough to evacuate containers, he added.

The depth of the port’s channel has fallen to less than 5m from 8-9m earlier, because of which ships have to call with less than their full loading capacity to be able to enter the port. “This is a loss to shipping lines," said the SCI executive mentioned earlier.

“The situation can be improved by widening the roads, increasing the storage space and by deepening the channel," said Saket Agarwal, a director at ABG Kolkata Container Terminals Pvt. Ltd, which runs two container handling berths at the Kolkata port.