NEW DELHI: Until a few weeks ago Patton International, an engineering goods company, was moving more than half its containers from Kolkata to Mumbai for exports to the US due to a shortage of containers on the east coast. “It’s a nightmare, no one would like to do it. Despite having a port in the city, you still have to do all this,” said Sandeep Goyal, who leads the operations, adding that the situation has improved a little over the last few weeks due to efforts taken by the Kolkata Port Trust. While globally, exporters have been grappling with a shortage of containers and a massive spike in freight post-Covid reopening, this appears to be far worse on the eastern front as goods have to be transported by road to Mumbai, Visakhapatnam or Cochin to find shipping lines that are headed to the right destination. The strained supply chains across the world is seen to be one of the factors adding to inflationary pressures, particularly in the US. The problem is visible in the numbers. Indian Ports Association’s latest data shows that during April-October, container traffic at Kolkata remained 18% lower than 2019 level, when the national average for all ports was an increase of over 8%. Haldia Docks just about managed to overtake the prepandemic level (see graphic). From Kolkata, goods are shipped either to Colombo or Singapore before they head to their final destination. And, the draught in Kolkata often plays a part. So, when the container crisis started, shipping lines were taking empty containers from the port to meet the requirements in other destinations, until the port authorities clamped down on it. While the Centre is trying to tackle the problem, government officials as well as businesses concede that this issue is unlikely to be resolved for several more months. Exporters in the eastern part are hoping that the acute shortage is resolved as they have to shell out 10% more. A tea exporter said transport cost per container adds up to around Rs 1 lakh and then there are other charges such as those paid for warehousing, loading and unloading, which add up to another Rs 30,000-40,000. “The problem is less in west and north India. This is in addition to the higher freight,” said Mahesh Keyal, a ferro alloy exporter, who was until recently paying nearly Rs 2,000 a tonne for shipping goods via Vishakhapatnam. It now costs $1,400-1,500 to ship a container from Kolkata to Chittagong, over three times the pre-pandemic rates, said Keyal. Similarly, the tea exporter said, shipping a container to CIS countries can cost around $11,000, as against $5,500-6,000 about June. What’s worse is that few shipping lines are not taking consignments to these countries, resulting in Indian exporters losing out to competitors in Sri Lanka or Kenya. “Our cargo is packed and lying. We are incurring interest cost, our delivery and payment cycles have got elongated, resulting in higher working capital requirements,” the exporter said.