A long way from ‘home’: Stacked, back to back

Hundreds of containers on their way to Afghanistan are stuck at Karachi Port for clearance.

Noorwali Shah August 05, 2013
The containers contain commercial material – new cars and other cosmetic products not meant for Nato. DESIGN: SAMAD SIDDIQUI

PESHAWAR: Around 400 containers of Afghan Transit Trade stand at the Karachi port – they are stranded, they are stuck, they have been collecting dust for two years.

According to many clearance agents, the port is demanding exorbitant amounts of damage retention money, which they are simply in no position to pay.

Inside the box

According to local clearance agents, there were around 3,000 containers at the port in 2010, after which most were exempted from damage money by then premier Yousaf Raza Gilani after the devastating floods.

“The containers were imported from abroad, mainly from Arab countries, and were supposed to be supplied to Afghanistan,” explains Haji Rafiq, a local businessman. “Now, the Karachi Port authorities are demanding retention money that is more than double the actual price of the products.”

The containers contain commercial material – new cars and other cosmetic products not meant for Nato. The worth of each ranges from $20,000 to $25,000.

The clearance agents that The Express Tribune talked to have two to four containers, but none of them are in any position to afford the amount the port authorities are asking for.


Rafiq says that the affected businessmen spent months in Karachi in a bid to get their containers released. They requested the officials in the port city to exempt them from the retention money – as they did for hundreds in the past – but without success.

“There were some containers that consisted of daily usage edibles, which could not stay preserved for more than there days. Thus, the owners left them on the spot,” says Rafiq. “They faced great damage in this way, and were not ready to the amount the port requires, which is many times higher than the actual price of the goods.”

In a similar vein, a clearance agent requesting anonymity, says that four of his containers have been stranded at the port since 2011, and the owners of these containers are consistently pushing for the issue to be resolved, which is difficult.

“The government [previously] had written off Rs370 million in retention money in 2011, but these 400 containers, bound for Afghanistan, were not included in this,” he states. “If the actual price of the container is Rs2 million, the port is demanding Rs8 million to allow the vehicle to move from there. This we certainly cannot afford.”

According to this agent, the government has only announced a special initiative for a certain time following the floods, during which many agents could not move their containers out. Now, no vehicles will be allowed to leave the port without payment of retention money.

The port’s point

According to Karachi Port Trust spokesman Shariq Farooqui, there is a certain criterion through which each and every container needs to pass. Many clearance agents do not understand the law and only want relaxation from the government.

“The clearance agents need to pay the amount of the customs department. Only then will they be allowed to supply their product form the port,” says Farooqui.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2013.