Cochin port slaps extra charges on crew changes

Charges for crew change activity will increase in Cochin port. Credit: Cochin port

Crew change activity at the outer anchorage of India’s Cochin Port Trust (CPT) is poised to become more expensive for global shipowners with the announcement of additional user charges. CPT has been a sought-after gateway for the movement of Indian seafarers caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic-linked turmoil.

Starting 15 October, CPT will charge vessels of all types INR5,500 (USD75) per hour towards crew change, bunkering, ship store, and ship repair services provided at the outer anchorage.

“The charges will apply from the time of letting go of anchor-to-anchor aweigh; and in the case of the ships not anchoring, it will apply from the time the vessel arrives at the designated position to the time it completes the service,” CPT said.

CPT also stated that the new fee is being implemented on an ad-hoc basis and that it comes on top of the anchorage charges and tug hire already in place.

Cochin’s heightened attraction as a crew change hub has stemmed from its close proximity to the busy eastwest international shipping route, which allows long-haul ships plying the busy Asia-Middle East and Asia-Europe shipping routes to make outer anchorage calls with minimal sailing deviations. This mode of mid-sea operation offers ship managers significant cost benefits as it does not attract berth hire charges, a major cost burden for Indian port calls. Instead, tugs are used to transport seafarers to and from the mother ship, for which CPT reportedly charges around USD800 per hour.

Over the past six months, Cochin has had about 600 ship calls at the outer anchorage for crew changes – sufficient evidence of those advantages for ship managers looking for swift and economical port services in a challenging environment.

The new extra tariff plan is an indication that CPT wants to “seize the opportunity” to capitalise on elevated crew change opportunities.

Between 23 March and 30 September, a total of 162,594 Indian seafarers have either returned home or joined their employment, according to new data released by the Directorate General of Shipping, the country’s maritime administrator. Of this, sign-off cases have amounted to 98,381, with sign-on activity pegged at 64,213.

However, the latest figures, by month, suggest a slowing trend in crew movement with lockdown restrictions easing further. Crew changes across Indian ports in September fell to 25,150 cases from 37,394 cases in August.

Indian maritime leaders are pinning high hopes on Vizhinjam port, a deepwater harbour located about 333 km from Cochin, as an alternative “crew change and anchoring hub” because of similar attractions. Vizhinjam port has had 48 ship calls over the past two months for sign-off and sign-on activities.