PETALING JAYA: Shipping lines plying between Asia and Europe are reluctant to pass through the Suez Canal due to the war on Iraq.
This is forcing the shipping lines to take a detour via the Cape of Good Hope, which means an additional two weeks steaming time.
If the Suez Canal is closed, carriers will have to sail 3,000 nautical miles more and incur an additional 500 tonnes of bunker fuel.
Mariners have also been warned on the possibility of mines being planted in the Persian Gulf waters by Iraqis and their sympathisers.
International Shipowners Association of Malaysia chairman Datuk Abdul Latif Abdullah said the shipping industry, which has already suffered huge losses over the past few years, would be further affected if the war was prolonged and extended to Iraq’s neighbours.
“There is a very real risk, especially for ships plying close to the war zone. Ships and ports are easy targets of attacks.
“Costs of bunker fuel, insurance premiums and additional crew allowance will increase for vessels sailing into the Gulf and these will be passed down to the shippers,” he added.
In times of war, shipping lines normally impose surcharges for fuel, insurance and crew for ships plying into war risk zones.
Several Malaysian shipowners and operators said their vessels were placed on a “heightened” state and the crew prepared to carry out emergency responses.
Nepline Bhd executive chairman Dr Nik Mohd Zain Omar said one of the company’s tankers, which was previously trading internationally, including in the Middle East, had been diverted to routes within Asia.
“We are worried about the hike in bunker price. Shipowners having contracts with charterers, who cannot adjust the bunker rates, will suffer the most,” he added.
It was learnt however, that national carrier, Malaysia International Shipping Corporation (MISC), and Aurora Tankers Sdn Bhd, two main players into the Persian Gulf, were not cutting back their services to the area.
The companies were monitoring the war closely and would only stop trading in the Gulf if their vessels were prevented from doing so and if there was immediate and real danger to crew.
In Johore Baru, the Johor Port in Pasir Gudang has not received any cancellation or delayed notices from shipping agents on the arrival of vessels from ports in the Middle East, reports Zazali Musa.
Of the 22 vessels scheduled to arrive at the port up to March 26, only four would be embarking from the Middle East while the other 18 vessels would ply the Asian route.
“Usually, shipping agents will inform us within 48 hours if there were any changes on the ship travel schedule,” said a port official.
The Port of Tanjung Pelepas chief executive officer Mohd Sidik Shaik Osman said in a statement that the port did not expect a significant impact in terms of cargo volume.
“The operational cost may increase marginally depending on the price of fuel,” he added.