It takes about one and half hours to reach the Chittagong Marine Dockyard from Chittagong city: half an hour on the road and the rest on a motor boat to reach the other side of the Karnaphuli river, where the shipyard is located.
Bangladeshi ship building and repairing companies like Chittagong Marine Dockyard build many different kinds of ships. “Other than the engines, we build everything,” said Abu Taleb Siddique, the managing director of the company.
Siddique says that the potential of the ship building industry is very high. “Bangladesh is exporting ships now. Ships have been exported to The Netherlands, India, Sri Lanka,” Siddique said. But Bangladesh is not quite ready for the international market, he added. The garments industry evolved over the years and can now comply with the international standards. The ship building industry is yet to reach there, said Siddique.
The demands for ships come in many forms. For Bangladesh, all internal transportation of goods happens through the waterways, by cargo ships. Bangladeshi highways cannot support passage for thousands of tons of cargo. Transport by road is much more costly and inefficient anyway. Other than transportation, ships are also needed for dredging. “In the sub-continent, dredging is crucial. The rivers here easily fill up from heavy sediment flow. For dredging you need a lot of ships and boats. Naturally, there is a high demand for dredging vessels,” said Siddique.
Dredging is basically excavating bottom sediments to increase the depth of rivers or shallow seas. The technique is often used to keep waterways navigable so that ships don't get stuck.
The demands for ships come in many forms. For Bangladesh, all internal transportation of goods happens through the waterways, by cargo ships.
A ship metropolis
Sailing through Karnaphuli to the shipyard site feels like passing through a big city of ships. Hundreds of ships can be seen anchored throughout the way. Some of these have networks of pipes laid out on top of the ship (“these are tankers”, Siddique informs), some stocky and powerful looking (“these are tug boats” he added), and many others of various shapes and sizes.
There are hundreds of shipyards and workshops in Bangladesh, among which over a hundred are registered with the Department of Shipping. Among these approximately 20 percent of these are in the Chittagong division, located along the side of the Karnaphuli River, where Siddique's shipyard and workshop is also located.
Nearly 70 percent of the country's shipyards are in and around Dhaka and Narayanganj along the banks of Buriganga, Shitalakha and Meghna. Six percent are located along the banks of Poshur river in the Khulna division and four percent are in the Barisal division, according to Department of Shipping figures cited by Mansur Ahamed, PhD in a report on the ship building industry of Bangladesh. “Almost all inland/coastal/bay crossing ships are constructed and repaired locally in these local shipyards," the report stated.
Nearly 70 percent of the country's shipyards are in and around Dhaka and Narayanganj along the banks of Buriganga, Shitalakha and Meghna.
Building a ship from scratch
Chittagong Marine Dockyard mainly repairs and builds ships. The process is manual and nothing is automated. “No one has incorporated automation in the industry yet. We have CNC machines for cutting plates precisely,” Siddique said. He informed that automation has been incorporated for some of the welding and cutting, but the whole process is not automated.
Siddique's company builds tug boats (used for towing ships), tankers (to carry oil), cargo, barges (floating platforms), dredgers, water buses, among many other types. Even though the planning and designing is done entirely by software, the putting together of the physical ship requires manual labour. With 35 permanent staff members, Siddique hires people for labour work on a contract basis.
To build a ship you first have to get a 'name clearance' from the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD). This is done either by the party that will commission the building or sometimes it is done by the builders, depending on the demand of the buyer.
After that the builder has to submit design and drawing for approval. The approval comes with time limit, by which the building of the approved ship must be completed.
Once these two clearances are acquired, then the builder starts, what is called, 'kiln laying'. It is the building of the structure or skeleton for the ship. After that comes 'fabrication', where the plates are fitted on the structure. But after fabrication when the structure looks built, many more works still remain unfinished, like piping and wiring.
Supervisor(s) from MMD come once during this process to check proper compliance. Finally, when the building is completed it has to go through a trial run. The trial process tests balance and speed. After the final trial there is another inspection from the MMD to check everything, including safety requirements. “If all requirements are satisfactorily met, then the ship gets the green signal from the inspector to start operation,” Siddique said.