Cargo vessels with port calls at Cat Lai Container Terminal in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam are facing disruptions in freight movement and restrictions on capacity due to delays in vessel schedules after Long Tau River was closed temporarily on October 19 as a result of a maritime accident.
VietSun Integrity, a domestic vessel, was carrying 285 unspecified containers with 17 crew members onboard when it started to list and later sank at around 01.30 (local time) on October 19, shortly after leaving the port. Although all crew members were rescued, the containers as well as the ship sank within two hours after the initial distress signal was issued.
Marine traffic suspended
In response, Ho Chi Minh City Port authorities have temporarily suspended all marine traffic from the junction of the Dong Tranh – Long Tau River for an indefinite period and all vessels to Cat Lai have been directed to use Soai Rạp channel as an alternative route. The closure allows time to clean up 150 tons of spilled oil as well as to recover the lost containers and the ship.
While initial reports suggested that the closure may last for up to 3 or 4 weeks, local sources on October 30 indicated that it may be extended for up to 100 days or 3 months as the salvage operation is expected to take longer. This is reportedly because the sunken ship may need to be segregated into 20 pieces with a crane. As of October 28, 63 containers have been found, about 42m3 of oil has been collected, and buoys have been placed around the accident site to prevent the oil from spreading further.
Impact to cargo movement
The average waiting time for vessels at Cat Lai port is currently around 1.5 to 2 days with reports suggesting that marine traffic near the affected site has slowed down. Ships are also facing an increase in fuel costs due to the longer distance that need to be traversed via the Soai Rap River. Moreover, carriers are also being forced to reduce cargo capacity as the river’s depth is shallower than Long Tau River’s.
At present, the maximum cargo capacity for carriers using the river is at 30 percent with the maximum draft restriction for vessels at 9 meters. Vessels with drafts that are above 9 meters have been directed to Cai Mep International Container Terminal, mainly used for export and import of agricultural products. As the draft restrictions limit vessels in their cargo loading capacity, some shipping lines have reportedly reduced freight at other international ports in order to have enough draft to bypass the route and to pick up goods at Cat Lai Port. As a result, carrier operations and port schedules have been impacted, especially during the peak period of import and export season, as the year is coming to an end.
The Vietnam Maritime Administration has requested import and export enterprises to provide services at ports in Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau, and Dong Nai to ease difficulties for carriers. Cat Lai is the biggest container terminal in Ho Chi Minh City’s port area, and is mostly used to ship containers to and from the industrial areas of Ho Chi Minh City. Resilience360 customers with shipments to Cat Lai are advised to liaise with local carriers and consider cargo offloading and loading options at Cai Mep – Thi Vai Port to avoid the draft restrictions. However, delays in pickup and delivery services and changes to port calls on short notice can be expected at least until the Long Tau River reopens.