Back to the future for Inchcape in Sri Lanka

New joint venture with John Keells Holdings strengthens maritime service hub at strategic and historic location.

Colombo, Sri Lanka – site of Inchcape Mackinnon Mackenzie Shipping’s new office

Inchcape Shipping Services has rediscovered its roots by forming a new joint venture with John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH) in Sri Lanka that is positioned to offer a full suite of services to ease voyage logistics at a strategic intersection of one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

The South Asian country is an important maritime hub in the Indian Ocean, with an estimated 31,000 vessels a year traversing the East-West trade route connecting the major industrial centres of North America, Western Europe and Asia, making it a vital link in the global supply chain serving a region that hosts around 35% of the world’s population.

It is not surprising then that Inchcape’s South Asia Area General Manager Ravi Ramachandran believes “it is long overdue that Inchcape has a presence in Sri Lanka” with the joint venture named Inchcape Mackinnon Mackenzie Shipping (Private) Ltd that was launched in July this year.

“This joint venture brings to the table the globally uniform service standard of Inchcape together with the local strength and assets of the John Keells Group, which will collectively be able to deliver a superior value proposition to customers,” Ramachandran says.

Turning back the clock

There is also an interesting historical twist to the tale as the JV incorporates Mackinnon Mackenzie Shipping, which was originally established in 1871 as Mackinnon Mackenzie & Co in the former Ceylon by Inchcape’s founders, Scottish merchants William Mackinnon and Robert Mackenzie, before being acquired by JKH in 1974.

And to square the circle, the JV is located in the Mackinnon Mackenzie building in the capital Colombo that was formerly owned by the Earl of Inchcape.

“So this marks something of a homecoming for Inchcape and we feel we are recovering part of our history,” says Inchcape Sri Lanka country manager Tharaka Nanayakkara.

The landmark collaboration expands Inchcape’s area operation based in Mumbai, India and enables it to deliver maritime services in key areas such as bunkering, husbandry and crew changes for a wide range of vessels – from oil tankers, container carriers and bulkers to ro-ro ships, naval vessels and cruise liners – calling at all ports of Sri Lanka.

P&O building formerly owned by the Earl of Inchcape and now the site of Inchcape Mackinnon Mackenzie Shipping

Bunkering challenge

Inchcape’s commercial manager for the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, Koushik Chakraborty, points out a major challenge for vessels traversing this major sea passage is securing high-quality bunker fuel at competitive prices with minimal route deviation and time-definite delivery.

The new venture is able to arrange more economic OPL (Out-of-Port Limit) bunkering at the ports of Colombo and Galle, as well as bunkering at anchorage at Hambantota, a newly developed port at the southern tip of Sri Lanka located only 10 nautical miles from the East-West trade route.

This is facilitated by the country’s primary supplier of marine bunker fuels and lubricants, Lanka Marine Services, which is part of the John Keells Group’s ports and shipping business along with South Asia Gateway Terminals.

“Our scale allows us to offer sharp prices and guaranteed time-definite delivery to facilitate fast turnaround. This provides a significant saving to the ships versus many other international ports where bunkers are taken at anchorage or alongside,” Chakraborty says.

Global standards

Inchcape, with a worldwide network of over 240 offices in 60 countries, is now able to safely deliver a full range of maritime services in Sri Lanka based on global standards of best practice in governance and transparency, supported by state-of-the-art digital technology under its internally developed World of Ports platform and port operations and finance platform, Optic.

Aside from seamless bunker port agency, these include full port agency, husbandry, crew logistics services, ship chandelling, liner agency, marine survey & inspection, logistics services to oil and gas, construction, dredging, cable-laying sectors, cruise tourism solutions, military support services and maritime consultancy.

Crew changes

A big issue for ship operators during the COVID-19 pandemic has been ensuring crew changes are carried out safely and securely to maintain health onboard and minimise disruption to operations, with Sri Lanka an important location for switching crews as well as taking onboard spares and provisions.

Ramachandran says Inchcape facilitated the repatriation of hundreds of Indian seafarers from the US, Manila and Singapore at the height of the pandemic, organising their smooth disembarkation from vessels and providing a safe and seamless transfer back home by taking care of end-to-end transport as well as necessary official approvals.

Over the past year, it has successfully facilitated more than 7000 crew changes across several ports in India for both Indian and foreign crew in line with strict protocols and has now secured permission from local port health authorities to carry out vaccinations onboard vessels with the assistance of trained medical personnel.

‘Shifting regulations’

“Other than the Coronavirus-induced local port restrictions, the rapidly changing statutory regulations and processes have made crew logistics quite challenging in most ports of South Asia,” Ramachandran explains.

“Inchcape has been in the forefront of providing timely assistance to the global maritime community with a structured crew change programme.”

This expertise is now also available in Sri Lanka with a highly experienced crew logistics desk working around the clock at the Colombo office to provide 24/7 assistance on crew movements, as well as procurement and delivery of spares, to keep trade flowing on the East-West route.

“Inchcape Sri Lanka’s local expertise, relationship with authorities and a strong understanding of processes and procedures gives us the ability to offer high-quality fully compliant agency services that gives peace of mind to customers,” concludes Ramachandran.