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What Role Does India Play in Alleviating Singapore's Container Port Bottleneck?

© Photo : Social MediaSingapore Container Ports
Singapore Container Ports - Sputnik India, 1920, 28.06.2024
Delhi seeks to connect Southeast Asia and the ASEAN community by utilizing Galathea Bay as a pivotal hub within a network that links Eurasian and Persian Gulf ports, stretching through Chabahar along the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) into Eurasia, according to experts.
Global port congestion has surged to its highest level in 18 months, with 60% of anchored ships currently located in Asia, according to maritime data firm Linerlytica.
Increasing terminal capacity pressure and congestion at Sri Lanka’s Colombo and Singapore's container ports have reportedly reached unprecedented levels since the COVID-19 pandemic. The disruption caused by prolonged vessel rerouting to avoid the Red Sea crisis has likewise exacerbated the problem, resulting in bottlenecks in global ocean shipping routes.

"Singapore has flourished as a pivotal global transport hub, vital for cargo handling and transshipment alongside Colombo and other regional ports crucial to India's logistics," Seshadri Vasan, navy commodore (Retd.) and director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies in India, told Sputnik India.

Vasan emphasized that India's strategic initiatives, like port modernizations and partnerships such as the INSTC via Chabahar, highlight ambitions to mitigate supply chain vulnerabilities amid global uncertainties.
These efforts "aim not only to bolster economic ties but also to navigate geopolitical challenges, ensuring sustainable connectivity across continents despite regional tensions and global dynamics," Vasan stressed.
On the other hand, the development of new ports, such as Galathea Bay on Great Nicobar Island in the Indian Ocean, is integral to India's trade operations and "will reinforce Singapore's role in these capacities," Ristian Atriandi Supriyano, an associate research fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Sputnik India.

Enhancing Infrastructure to Navigate Global Shipping Challenges

India relies heavily on ports outside its borders for trans-shipping, with Colombo, Singapore, and Klang in Malaysia managing over 85% of this cargo, including 45% at Colombo Port alone.
This underscores the urgency for India to enhance its infrastructure and operational capabilities, making projects like Galathea Bay near Southeast Asia crucial in addressing these challenges, according to Vasan.
Equally, according to Captain Sarabjeet S Parmar (Retd), a distinguished fellow at the Council for Strategic and Defense Research (CSDR) in New Dehli, merchant vessels opt for the most cost-effective routes to optimize their journeys.
However, the "current global scenario faces challenges such as fuel supply disruptions and a shortage of available ships, impacting shipping schedules and causing congestion at major hubs like Singapore and Colombo," he pointed out in a conversation with Sputnik India.

"Investments in infrastructure by nations may not automatically attract merchant traffic unless there's a clear return on investment," Parmar added.

In the meantime, the captain stressed that existing routes, such as the North-South corridor facilitating coal imports from Russia to India, demonstrate how trade roots build upon established infrastructure.
The strategic choice of routes, such as those through Bandar Abbas or Chabahar in Iran, underscores "geopolitical influences and the need for coordinated efforts between nations to ensure smooth cross-border movement of goods," argued the pundit.
Vasan believes that India needs to synchronize infrastructure and technological advancements with current supply-demand dynamics in the merchant marine industry.
Maritime transportation remains crucial for global trade, handling 90% of its volume, highlighting "the necessity to diversify and decongest sea routes" through various, including road, rail, and alternative ways, he asserted.

India's Role in Southeast Asia, Eurasia, and Beyond

Vasan described significant investments in expanding the capacity at Singapore's Jurong Port as highlighting India's strategic importance, reflecting the country's "aim to bolster its connectivity and global market access."
He disclosed that initiatives such as the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime corridor exemplify "efforts to diversify and decongest existing trade routes, anticipating future demands and expanding connectivity options across continents."
Meanwhile, last May, during the visit of Singapore's former president to Kazakhstan, both sides agreed to establish a trade and transit corridor connecting Eurasia with the Southeast Asian market. The city-state also signed a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union in 2019.

"India aims to integrate Southeast Asia and the ASEAN community, with Galathea Bay serving as a key node in the broader network connecting Eurasian and Persian Gulf ports, extending through Chabahar along the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) into Eurasia," Vasan proposed.

The commodore claimed that this approach in India's evolving maritime strategy "aims to enhance its logistical capabilities and regional connectivity, while reducing reliance on external trans-shipment hubs".
Remarkably, Singapore's free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union and India's parallel efforts to strengthen ties with the same bloc, illustrate "strategic alignments aimed at leveraging new corridors and trade opportunities," concluded the pundit.
In turn, Supriyano indicated that India has made "significant strides in enhancing regional connectivity and economic ties, but there is a growing focus on ensuring the security of maritime commercial routes.

Alongside its partners, the country has offered to enhance maritime surveillance capabilities for Southeast Asian nations and "should continue supporting future ASEAN initiatives through bilateral or mini-lateral agreements, such as coordinated maritime patrols in the South China Sea," the analyst stated.

However, he advised that it is important to take into account regional concerns about "extra-regional countries taking part in patrols, which are more direct and intrusive than exercises."
In addition, as Singapore strengthens its commercial ties and connectivity with Central Asia, Supriyano predicts that trade "between these regions and Southeast Asia will increase", further solidifying the city-state's position as a vital nexus for international commerce.
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