The export-import businessmen of the country are likely to count losses as the shipping companies are charging more for overstay at the outer anchorage of the Chittagong port and delayed port operations.
The port has been facing huge vessel congestion for the last two months, delaying berthing schedules to many ships waiting at the outer anchorage.
About 90% of the country’s export and import is done through Chittagong port, located by the estuary of the Karnaphuli River.
Stakeholders attribute the congestion largely to the lack of adequate infrastructure at the port.
Chittagong port is experiencing 16% to 17% growth in cargo and container handling for the past few years.
However, no jetty has been constructed in the last nine years. As a result, the vessel congestion persists here in absence of adequate jetty facilities.
To make things worse, the two gantry cranes which were damaged following an accident on June 25 has substantially disrupted the container handling operations of the port.
Against this backdrop, the leaders of the FBCCI met Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan at the secretariat on Tuesday.
The leaders of the apex trade body of the country expressed grave concern over the vessel congestion which is affecting the trade and commerce.
According to the importers, on an average 15 container vessels now have to wait everyday at the outer anchorage for getting schedule of berthing in the jetties.
The container vessels are experiencing a delay of maximum 10-11 days in receiving berthing permission. It is also increasing the turnaround time or ships’ stay time at the port.
The average stay time for a container vessel for getting schedule of berthing is supposed be not more than two days under normal circumstances.
The turnaround time, a port-efficiency index, begins from the time a vessel arrives at the port till it sails out after discharging imported goods and loading exports.
To recoup the astronomical losses, the shipping companies have already raised freight charges of container vessels bound for Chittagong port from different ports of the world.
The businessmen and the importers fear that they would have to incur huge financial losses due to the hike in freight charges.
According to Mahfuzul Haque Shah, director of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the vessel congestion at country’s maritime port reached its peak.
“Container vessels now have to stay 7-10 days while the cargo vessels have to stay 25-30 days at the outer anchorage of Chittagong port.
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“Regrettably, the infrastructural capacity of Chittagong port has not increased over the years to cope with the ever-increasing growth. Therefore, it is the economy of the country which is now on the verge of collapse,” the CCCI director said.
He also said: “Due to overstay of vessels at the outer anchorage, the vessel operators will charge additional service charge from the exporters and importers which will push up cost of local businesses. The country’s exports growth slumped to 3.67 % in the first 11 months of the just concluded 2016-17 fiscal year.”
According to Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), one lakh TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) containers laden with goods are imported through the port every month.
The businessmen will have to count an additional amount of Tk 80 crore per month if $100 is imposed on each container on the pretext of additional surcharge.
BGMEA Vice President Md Ferdous told the Dhaka Tribune that the vessel congestion was having an adverse effect on the RMG sector.
“The persistent vessel congestion will put the country’s number one export sector in further jeopardy. A bulk portion of the imported containers contain raw materials of readymade garments like cloth, cotton, yarn, button and other accessories. The Shipping Ministry should take steps to immediately resolve the problem,” the apparel entrepreneur said.
However Ahsanul Haque Chowdhury, chairman of Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association, said that the situation was not so much alarming as it was reported.
“The gearless ships (ships without crane) are facing congestion upto 10-12 days at the outer anchorage of the port. The Chairman of Chittagong port has held a meeting with the stakeholders in this regard. To address the problem, the port authorities decided to use a dedicated jetty for the containers carrying export goods,” Ahsanul Haque said.
When asked, Fazle Ekram Chowdhury, president of Berth Operators and Ship Handling Operators Association said: “There was nothing to worry with regard to the present vessel and container congestion as the situation is still under control.”
“Eid vacation, rough weather induced by heavy rains and recent cyclonic storm are responsible for current congestion. The situation is likely to improve within two weeks,” hoped Chowdhury.
Ruhul Amin Sikder, secretary of Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA) told the Dhaka Tribune: “The infrastructural facilities of the sea port should be increased. The port authorities assured us that the two damaged gantry cranes would be replaced by mobile cranes soon.”
Shipping Secretary Ashok Madhab Roy said: “A meeting in this regard has been organised for July 31. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will preside over the meeting.”
“Besides, another meeting of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Shipping will be held on Thursday to discuss over the issue,” he added.