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Beirut explosion prompts Bangladesh to make Chittagong Port safe from hazards

  • Published at 09:02 pm August 13th, 2020
chittagong port
File Photo: Undelivered cargoes have been sitting around the port for years on end as the customs authorities have neither auctioned them off nor destroyed them Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Different types of inflammable goods, imported in the last 28 years, are kept in port sheds dangerously  

Indifference of authorities to auction and clear out unclaimed hazardous and inflammable cargo from the Chittagong Port area for year after year is posing a serious risk for Bangladesh’s premier seaport.

After the August 4 Beirut Port devastation apparently triggered by explosion of a long-term stored chemical stock, sources at the Chittagong Port confirmed to Dhaka Tribune that unclaimed, disputed or discarded stock, as old as of 28 years, of various hazardous, inflammable, and chemical substances are lying at a shed of the Port, posing a risk of devastating explosion like that of the Beirut Port.

Upon repeated warnings and letters from the country’s port users and business community no steps have ever been taken to clear the inflammable materials up until the Beirut incident. Only after that devastation did the authorities in Bangladesh form a committee mandated with the task to take measures for clearing the hazardous substances.  

On August 4, industrial chemicals exploded in a massive blast that obliterated most of the port in the Lebanese capital. The explosion killed more than 170 people, and injured 6,000 more, and destroyed some 6,000 buildings, reported Reuters quoting Beirut’s municipal authorities. 

According to Bangladesh Customs, within 30 days from the day that goods are unloaded from ships to the port jetty, importers must take delivery of their consignment. If an importer fails to receive and remove the consignment during the said period, customs authorities must issue a notice to the importer. And, if the importer does not take delivery within 15 days of notification, the goods are to be auctioned off.

Undelivered cargoes have been sitting around the port for years on end as the customs authorities have neither auctioned them off nor destroyed them. 

According to the port stakeholders, slow pace of auction and tangles in destroying the unclaimed goods have led to the stockpiling of dangerous and hazardous goods. 

Out of the 14 sheds at Chittagong port, hazardous cargoes are stored at the Shed “P.” The containers carrying hazardous goods are kept at the container yards. Currently, different types of dangerous goods, imported since the last 28 years, have been kept in 134 drums and 55 pellets of Shed P. 

AM Mahbub Chowdhury, vice president of the Chittagong Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CMCCI) told Dhaka Tribune that the trade body wrote a letter to the concerned authorities last year for the disposal of the unclaimed goods at the port. 

“All types of undelivered cargo – irrespective of hazardous and non-hazardous – should be cleared off the port without further delay. The undelivered cargo, occupying one-fourth of the space, are slowing down the operations of the maritime port. 

“Moreover, a huge amount of foreign currency is being wasted and the government is being deprived of revenue. Last, but not the least, the port is at a serious risk of fire and explosion due to the hazardous cargoes lying there for years,” Mahbub said. 

Mahfuzul Haque Shah, former director of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) said that the customs authorities, along with the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), should take immediate steps to safely dispose of the stockpiled dangerous cargo. 

“As you know, 98% of the country’s export and import takes place via the Chittagong port. The dangerous cargo lying at the port for years could cause a deadly blast at any moment. The overall economic activities will come to a halt if the port operations are disrupted due to an accident like the Beirut port,” he said. 

Fire breakouts at the port 

On July 15, a blazing fire broke out at Shed No 3 of the port and the blaze was finally doused after 17 hours of frantic efforts. 

On April 22, 2015, four workers sustained burn injuries while unloading drums, loaded with methanol, from a container on the New Mooring Container Terminal premises of the port. 

CPA Secretary Omar Faruk told the Dhaka Tribune that the customs authorities are supposed to auction off or destroy the undelivered goods. 

“We have already sent a letter to the customs authorities regarding the disposal of the undelivered goods. Currently, some inflammable and corrosive goods are stored at the port. A six-member committee has already been formed to ascertain the current status of the hazardous goods lying at the port. The committee is now taking an inventory and the report will be submitted within a couple of days,” Omar said. 

Contacted, Commodore Shafiul Bari, head of the six-member committee told Dhaka Tribune that representatives from the CPA, Chittagong Customs House, and the Department of Environment are in the committee. 

“We are now making a list of hazardous and dangerous goods stored at the port. We will recommend relocating and modernizing the shed designated for storing dangerous cargo. Besides, steps should be taken to take delivery of the cargoes immediately after import,” said Commodore Bari, also CPA member (Harbour and Marine). 

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