J. M. Baxi & Co. handles a major share of the cruise ships visiting India, with over 100 calls in six ports – Mumbai, Goa, New Mangalore, Kochi, Port Blair and Porbandar. During the last financial year, we handled a wide spectrum of calls, ranging from the second largest cruise ship in the world, the Spectrum of the Seas at Mumbai and Kochi in May 2019, to maiden ship calls at remote locations like Visakhapatnam and Paradip. It was a logistical and administrative challenge to ensure smooth immigration and customs clearances and arrange for port services like gangways and transport, especially for such calls.
J. M. Baxi & Co.’s unique selling proposition (USP) has been reducing the administrative effort on board ships and keeping the interest of its principal at the forefront while dealing with governmental agencies. Constant interaction with port authorities to optimally exploit (Port Community System) PCS 1x resulted in ships having to submit most documents/certificates only once during the season to the first port of call. Immigration authorities were requested to depute immigration staff for en route clearance (to expedite clearance of passengers when they arrive at their first port of call) in exceptional cases. Customs and Port Health Organization (PHO) authorities agreed to accept soft copies of various documentation, which resulted in easing the administrative load on the ships considerably. J. M. Baxi & Co. locations were proactive to assist ships in uploading passenger manifests into Bureau of Immigration website to enable timely generation and downloading of the electronic landing cards (eLCs). We went a step further and standardized the format and colour of the manual landing cards used at various ports, which hitherto needed different locations to courier different cards to the ship for the same voyage. We can take pride in the fact that other agents have been striving to catch up with us.
The procedure of evaluation and payment of customs duty on items consumed in Indian territorial waters has been a major handicap. J. M. Baxi & Co. has been instrumental in not only drawing up the process but also ensuring that a relatively uniform procedure is adopted for the same across all ports in the country. The cruise and navy cell has handled the implementation of the procedure centrally and has, at times, advised cruise lines on measures to streamline their processes. In fact, this procedure has now been adopted by other agents as well.
J. M. Baxi & Co. has been at the forefront of efforts to open some other minor ports in Gujarat and Maharashtra to cruise tourism, with some states taking the initiative of even promulgating a dedicated cruise policy with decisions and steps favourable to promoting the industry. Cruise lines worldwide are considering including some of these ports in future.
The cruise industry has been adversely affected by the recent outbreak of the COVID - 19. Cruise lines have been forced to redraw their itineraries due to closure of some ports or restrictions on certain nationalities visiting them, most at very short notice. J. M. Baxi & Co. was extremely responsive to enable ships to maintain their original itineraries or adapt to revised ones by getting timely approvals from various authorities. The call at Porbandar in February 2020 could be facilitated only due to the proactive interaction with the Gujarat Maritime Board. Our timely intervention with local authorities (port, immigration, customs, PHO etc) assistance and support resulted in a very successful call, well appreciated by the ship and principals.
As regards naval ships, J. M. Baxi & Co. till recently provided husbanding services to the Australian and Japanese navies. Competitive bids were submitted to win the contracts for services to the navies of the USA, Republic of Singapore, Republic of Korea and Oman. The highlight of the year was the handling of 16 port calls of the Australian navy at Trincomalee, Colombo, Chennai and Visakhapatnam in the space of three weeks, with four ships and a submarine berthed simultaneously at a port. This stretched manpower and logistical resources to the utmost – again a challenge well met by the local branches at Mumbai, Kochi, Goa, Chennai and head office. Intervention with the US naval attaché and their contracting office in Singapore (through our principals Toll Logistics of Australia) resulted in a major change in the request for quotation (RFQ) document that hitherto claimed exemption from paying port dues for all US navy ships calling at Indian ports.
J. M. Baxi & Co. has procured and manages assets like gangways, yokohoma fenders, jersey barriers, camlock fittings for water and sewage discharge connections, gazebo tents, floating lines of demarcation and a conveyor belt (for smooth baggage handling during turnaround operations of cruise ships). We also have approved vendors at all Indian ports for various operational requirements like garbage offload, crane and heavy lift services, waste disposal etc. This has resulted in significant cost reduction for J. M. Baxi & Co. and, in turn, for our principals as well.