Exports cut off as transport strike continues

Exports through the Chittagong port have been completely cut off due the ongoing transport strikes. 

Although three ships carrying export goods were scheduled to leave the port on Sunday, they could not leave as no export containers could be picked up amid strike, port insiders told Dhaka Tribune.

Seven container ships, including the previous three, were scheduled to leave the port on Monday. 

Port officials, quoting shipping agents, said that some of the ships would leave the port even if they did not receive the export containers. 

“Some ships might leave the port empty at night. Because they will not count the losses by staying here,” said a port official. 

According to the port authority, 98% of the containers exported through waterways are exported through the Chittagong port. 

An average of 1,900 containers of goods are shipped through the port every day, so the delays have already led to a lot of goods piling up. 

Exporters fear that if the strike continues, they will face problems similar to those in the beginning of last July, when the transportation of export goods was disrupted due to the congestion in private container depots.

Syed Nazrul Islam, first vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and also the managing director of Chittagong-based Well Designers Limited, said that lots of containers have been stuck in the ICDs. 

“If this situation continues, it will be difficult for this sector to turn around. We are continuing discussions with the relevant department, but are not getting any results. It is unknown at this time when we can be rid of this crisis,” he added.

If the crisis is not resolved immediately, exporters will face huge losses, he further said. 

Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the BGMEA, said that the exporters of the various products of the country fear a loss of worth $360 million due to the ongoing strike.

He also said that sufficient numbers of ships are waiting at the outer anchorage of the port to unload the raw materials for apparel items.

“But there are no trucks and covered vans to carry the goods to the factories. Moreover, we cannot send the export products to the port due to the same crisis,” he added.

He also said that the delay in the movement of raw materials from the port to the factories and the finished goods from the factories to the port is creating a lead time delay of several days or more.

“We have imported raw materials in bulk as the purchase orders are insanely high for our apparel items since the global economy has returned to normalcy,” he added.

He also said that strikes at this stage of recovery are hampering the process, causing delays in product shipments and disrupting the supply chain.

However, the owners of the transport sector began the strike on Friday in protest of the hike in fuel prices as they think it will sink the transport sector into losses.

The bus owners withdrew their strike after a meeting with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), where it proposed to increase the fares of diesel-powered buses and minibuses by 27% per kilometre.

However, the Bangladesh Covered Van-Truck Prime Mover Goods Transport Owners’ Association has announced to continue the strike until their demands are met.

Apparel manufacturers said that they could not collect the required raw materials from the Chittagong port as there were no trucks and covered vans to carry them.

Moreover, the goods-laden trucks and covered vans are not going to the port from the factories in the industrial regions like Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Narsingdi, and Manikganj.

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Md Ruhul Amin Sikder, secretary of the Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA), said that there were about 34,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of empty containers. Some 9,750 TEUs of containers for export and 8,400 TEUs of containers for imports remained stuck in the ICDs for shipping as of Sunday night.

However, sources said that if not shipped tonight, at least 1,900 more containers should be added to this number.

Sikder also said that congestion was inevitable at the port as the normal activities have remained suspended for four days.

Md Omar Faruk, secretary of the Chittagong Port Authority, said that the internal activities of the port are operational but the deliveries are closed.

“If this continues, the port's capacity will be disrupted, which could lead to major economic losses and severe congestion, unless the problem is solved immediately,” he added.

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