Kanpur, India: Fear hangs heavy in the air of Kanpur’s export yards, where an estimated ₹100 crore worth of goods sit idly, hostage to the escalating conflict in the Red Sea. The Israel-Hamas clashes and Houthi missile attacks on cargo ships have created a perilous environment, forcing exporters to slam the brakes on shipments destined for Europe.
The once-reliable Red Sea route, the shortest pathway from Asia to Europe, now resembles a minefield. Shipping companies, wary of the volatile situation, have withdrawn insurance coverage, leaving exporters exposed and vulnerable. Alternative routes, winding around South Africa and Morocco, offer a safer passage but come at a steep price – a 35% hike in freight costs that’s rattling the already struggling industry.
“The Russia-Ukraine war had already created hurdles, but now the Red Sea attacks have dealt a crippling blow,” laments Javed Iqbal, regional chairman of the council for leather exports. “Exporters are terrified of losing their consignments to piracy or destruction. They’d rather wait than risk venturing into that maelstrom.”
Kanpur, famed for its leather and leather goods, exports a diverse range of products to 27 European countries via the Bab al Mandeb strait, a strategic chokepoint known as the “gate of tears.” In recent weeks, Houthi missiles have rained down on ships traversing this crucial passage, prompting shipping companies to raise their shields.
“Insurance is out of the question,” reveals Imityaz Ahmed, a freight operator. “Instead, they’re asking for a hefty $5200 risk surcharge per container. What were once $700 shipments have exploded to $3000, and that’s not even counting the surcharge!”
The uncertainty has driven exporters to a standstill. Sheezan Akhtar, a leading horse gear exporter, echoes the sentiment, “Playing it safe is the only option right now. We’re holding back shipments and hoping for calmer waters. The detour via Morocco and South Africa is a double whammy – longer and much more expensive.”
Alok Srivastava, convener of the Federation of Indian Export Organisation (FIEO), paints a grim picture. “We’re in dire straits. Over ₹100 crore worth of cargo is frozen due to the Red Sea crisis. We’ve alerted the Union government, but time is running out. If things don’t improve, Indian exports will suffer another major blow.”
Kanpur’s export engine, already sputtering from the global headwinds, faces a new storm in the Red Sea. With no end in sight to the conflict and prohibitive alternative routes, the fate of countless shipments and livelihoods hangs in the balance. The wait for safe passage seems agonizingly long, and the echoes of fear in Kanpur’s export yards resonate far beyond the troubled waters of the Red Sea.
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