KARACHI: The situation at Karachi port already struggling to cope with severe congestion may worsen as a US vessel carrying military hardware, including about 350 heavy vehicles, for Nato/Isaf forces in Afghanistan sailed into the port on Saturday evening just when the sun was setting on the horizon for the last time in 2011.
Another two ships with Nato supplies, including reefer containers with refrigeration system, are due in a few days.
Terminals and areas around the port are already chock-a-block with hundreds of containers unloaded before Pakistan stopped Nato supplies in the aftermath of the Nov 26 attacks on its Mohamnd posts, killing 24 soldiers.
Shipping sources told Dawn that after the US vessel Freedom which had sailed into the port on Saturday was accommodated at berths 11 and 12. Another two vessels, MV Alliance Beaumont and Liberty Pride, with more cargo for Nato/Isaf troops were due over the next few days.
The manifest of the Freedom declares the cargo as “goods in transit to Afghanistan” and the importer is the US military and the consignor, Surface Deployment and Command.
The vessel is loaded with Humvee vehicles widely used by US forces in the Afghan war. The last container carrier, President Truman, carrying military hardware called at Karachi port on Dec 7. Other vessels which reported after the air strikes on the border posts were Liberty Promise and President Jackson, which called on Nov 29. A carrier also brought around 1,200 US military vehicles during the period.
Although there is no apparent breakthrough in relations between Pakistan and the United States since the border post attack, the resumption of calls by US vessels carrying military hardware and vehicles, according to a knowledgeable source, indicated some behind-the-scene developments.
There has been no announcement by either side about any change in their stances with the Pakistan Army rejecting the findings of US inquiry on the attack as unacceptable and the US insisting on calling it a mistake.
Shipping and terminal operators said the US had recently ordered to re-manifest all its military cargo stranded at Pakistani ports for exports.
However, experts on Pakistan-US relations are of the view that these are pressure tactics being used for opening up negotiations because the US is still keen on keeping the supply line open.
Pakistan wants to impose a transit fee because $50 million per month paid through the Coalition Support Fund has proven insufficient.
This year’s budget included a provision in the Customs Act to levy a transit fee on such cargoes and both sides, the experts said, could move forward in negotiations if they accommodated each other’s interests.
The Nato/Isaf cargo which reached ports after Nov 26 is still stacked at container terminals, creating an unprecedented congestion, although a slowdown in economic activity because of a power and gas crisis has decreased imports and exports, resulting in lesser cargo traffic.
Ports and shipping sources said around 2,000TEUs (twenty feet equivalent) were stacked at Port Qasim and 1,700TEUs and 1,700 US military vehicles at Karachi port.
The vessel Freedom lifted US military cargo from the Baltimore, Jeddah and Jebel Ali (UAE) ports.