A powerful cyclone named Amphan, the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane on the five-tier Saffir-Simpson scale, is currently heading towards coastal regions in eastern India and southeastern Bangladesh, exhibiting maximum winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kph). The storm is expected to begin impacting the coastline in the early afternoon of May 20 between India’s coastal town of Digha in West Bengal State and Hatiya Island of Bangladesh.
The cyclone is reportedly the biggest cyclonic storm that developed over the Bay of Bengal in the last two decades after it temporarily reached the strength of the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane on May 18. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the storm’s wind speed is forecast to be as high as 112 miles per hour (180 kph) by the time it will make landfall.
As both India and Bangladesh are still in the midst of struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, significant challenges and disruptions to manufacturing and logistics operations can be anticipated due to the storm’s landfall. In anticipation of the landfall, officials in eastern India have been evacuating around 1.2 million people from low-lying areas in 12 districts across Eastern Odisha while still maintaining social distancing measures, and authorities in West Bengal have been evacuating 200,000 people from low-lying areas.
Logistics operations in India and Bangladesh to face further delays
With heavy rains, storm surges and high winds expected to affect India’s northwestern states and low-lying coastal areas of Bangladesh, port and airport operations are likely to be suspended for a number of days in the affected areas. While in India, domestic and international flights remain suspended due to the COVID-19 lockdown until May 31, charter and freighter flights have continued to operate and will now likely be temporarily discontinued.
At highest risk are currently Biju Patnaik International Airport, a major civil aviation hub in Eastern India, and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Int’l Airport that serves the Kolkata metropolitan area. The latter has been ranked as the fifth busiest airport in India in 2018 and has preemptively shut down gates until May 21.
Of India’s 12 biggest container ports, two are located within the immediate impact area of Cyclone Amphan, namely the Port of Kolkata and the Port of Paradip. While the latter has been closed in anticipation of the storm since May 19, alongside the smaller ports of Dhamra and Gopalpur, the Port of Kolkata has issued warnings to seamen and stopped the movement of all vessels to and from its docks to prevent any damage to port assets and ships.
In Bangladesh, the maritime port authorities of Chattogram (Chittagong), Cox’s Bazar, Mongla and Payra have already issued cyclone warnings and sent vessels anchored at the ports to outer anchorage for safe harbor while lighter vessels were sent upstream of Karnaphuli River for safe anchoring. The ports have suspended all loading and off-loading cargo activities after the alert was issued, while the equipment for handling containers and goods have been moved to safer places.
The super cyclone comes at a time when the ports in India and Bangladesh have already been facing congestion for several weeks due to COVID-19 related restrictions, and is thus likely going to pose additional challenges to ocean freight dependent international supply chains in and out of the affected regions. In particular container vessels calling at the Port of Chattogram (Chittagong), Bangladesh’s key port that handles nearly 80 per cent of the country’s total export-import activities, have been facing on average 16 days of berthing times, with vessel masters being obliged to provide an official declaration on whether crew members are infected with the coronavirus.
Eastern India’s automotive and steel industries brace for impact
With the storm expected to pass Odisha state’s coastline, its steel industry that includes mills belonging to Tata Steel in Kalinganagar and Jindal Stainless in Jajpur is bracing for disruption. Further north, Kolkata’s automotive supplier hub, which also serves Tata Motors assembly plant in Jamshedpur east of the city, has come back online in recent weeks from COVID-19 disruptions and could now face more logistical bottlenecks due to flooded roads and closed ports in the area. For instance, Tata Steel’s plant in Jamshedpur usually relies on the ports of Paradip and Dhamra port to export its products.
In the Bay of Bengal, the cyclone season typically runs from April to December. As the path and intensity of cyclones are difficult to predict, Resilience360 customers should keep abreast of the latest developments and adjust contingency plans for logistics or manufacturing operations accordingly. Precedents indicate that the ports along the Bay of Bengal have faced an additional 24 hours of berthing delays following major storms. Thus, customers should expect longer shipping times in the coming weeks as maritime supply chains will continue to experience the compounded impact of COVID-19 restrictions and storm-related port disruption.