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Dhaka Tribune

Knee-deep in container backlog, Chittagong port is choking

Almost 90% of the capacity has been exceeded, although the port needs at least 15% of yard space to perform day-to-day work

Update : 13 Jan 2022, 09:14 PM

The Chittagong port has been rendered almost unusable for trade as containers have piled up at the yard of the prime seaport of the country, according to port insiders. 

Almost 90% of the capacity has been exceeded, although the port needs at least 15% of yard space to perform day-to-day work, they said.  

Meanwhile, the new draft export policy 2021-2024 has been approved with a special focus on providing equal policy support to all the export-oriented sectors and the annual export target has been raised to $80 billion from the existing target of $60 billion.

However, insiders said that by the end of 2024, the total trade volume of the country will be more than $150 billion.

At present, the additional capacity of the port is being used for the current trade of $90 billion. As a result, it will be nearly impossible for the port to carry new trade loads with the existing capacity.

According to the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), 4,209 ships anchored at the port last year, up from 3,728 in 2020. The CPA handled 28,39,977 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers in 2020 and 32,14,548 in 2021. Moreover, last year, the cargo handling through this port grew nearly 13% to 116.7 million metric tons, which was 103.2 million in 2020.

LCL cargo takes up valuable space

Importers often bring in multiple containers of similar products, such as freezers, tires, animal feed, food supplements, and so on, from abroad. 

But recently, in the case of such products, the importers declare less than container load (LCL) instead of full container load (FCL). 

As a result, the products of the same importer can be seen in different containers, which take up valuable space in port sheds once unloaded. 

However, with the FCL declaration of these similar products, the importers can take delivery without opening the whole container of goods inside the port. 

This will save time as well as increase the port's space and efficiency.

Earlier, the port authority had written to the shipping agents and freight forwarders to expedite the delivery of unloaded LCL cargo.

The CPA has given such instructions in various letters to the stakeholders recently, including the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).

According to the CPA, the port is fully operational every day of the week to deliver imported LCL cargo. 

Omar Faruque, secretary of the CPA, said in a letter that in line with the growing economic development of the country, trade through the port has increased at a significant rate and the last few months have seen a record increase in exports.

It has requested that importers take quick delivery of LCL cargo inside the port, along with the delivery of LCL containers and cargo on public holidays, including Friday and Saturday. 

However, the importers do not take delivery of LCL cargo fast enough, especially on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, when the rate of delivery becomes tremendously slow — one-third of regular handling speeds.

This has made it difficult to reshuffle the imported LCL containers due to a lack of space in the port sheds. 

According to the port authority, the port yard has a capacity of keeping 49,018 TEUs of containers, which currently accommodates 43,261 units — up from 37,000 just two months ago.

Syed Nazrul Islam, first vice president of the BGMEA, said that the raw material of the apparel sector is not likely to be left in the port yard as now every factory is fully operational.

“Everyone in this sector is transporting raw materials from the port fast. However, the relevant offices remained closed on weekends. The closures of banks, clearing and forwarding agents, and other relevant offices are another barrier to work on these days,” he added.

However, according to some information received, most of the products stuck in the port are food related; industrial raw materials do not stay in the port for long.

Importers also said that the port is still congested for most of the year due to overloading. 

Solution lies in building the Bay Terminal

The most important project for the port to cope with future pressures is the building of the Bay Terminal.

In this regard, Khairul Alam Suzan, vice president of the Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association, said that the country is experiencing industrialization, building economic zones, and importing equipment.

“Now specialized jetties are needed for loading and unloading of specialized products or heavy machinery. Specialized product handling jetties, including LPG and LNG terminals, chemical handling jetties or hazardous goods handling ones, can be constructed if the Bay Terminal is given priority,” he added. 

He also said that the terminal can handle several times more goods than the current port.

“Normally the quality of service cannot be maintained due to the capacity. In that case construction of the new Bay Terminal has become urgent,” he added.

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