The Chittagong Port, which is the main sea port of Bangladesh and responsible for handling the lion’s share of the country’s import and export including apparel shipments, recently witnessed around 25.69 per cent increase in container handling.
According to reports, the port has handled around 2,57,421 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of containers in the month of May 2021, which is apparently 25.69 percent higher than the same period of the preceding year, as per the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), the data from which showed that the port handled 2,04,801 TEUs of containers in the month of May 2020 while 28,33,897 TEUs of containers were shipped through Chittagong Port during July to May of the fiscal 2020-21, up from 27,84,992 TEUs in the same period of the last fiscal.
On the other hand, some 87,58,865 metric tonnes of cargo were handled in the Chittagong port in the month of May 2021, up from 53,43,915 metric tonnes in the same period of the preceding year. During the first 11 months of the fiscal, the port handled some 10,55,22,980 metric tonnes cargo which is 1,03,52,950 metric tonnes higher than the same period of the last fiscal 2019-20, data showed even as it added that some 337 vessels were handled in the Chittagong Port in the month of May 2021, up from 223 vessels in the same month of the previous year.
Meanwhile, around 3,757 vessels of containers were handled through the seaport during July to May of the fiscal 2020-21, up from 3,527 vessels in the same period of the last fiscal even as the CPA Chairman Rear Admiral Mohammad Shahjahan said during the two-month countrywide shutdown last year after the COVID-19 outbreak, the seaport faced acute and prolonged container and vessel congestion due to stockpiling of undelivered containers.
“Because of the bitter experience last year, we took prior initiatives, including issuance of letters to the importers and other users and kept asking the users repeatedly to keep the port congestion free. For the initiative, we got benefit,” he added while underlining that within a single day in May, the port authority has set a record through handling 10,060 TEUs containers and delivering 5,030 TEUs.
“The trend is encouraging compared to other ports in the world. Under the Corona situation, many of the world’s ports reduced operational activity in the labour crisis. Or it had to be stopped. But no such crisis was allowed to arise in Chittagong Port. The port’s operational activities were not closed for a single moment,” further added the CPA Chairman.
Notwithstanding the achievements, there seem to be many issues related to the port still, which need to be sorted out.
“There are lots of issues with the Chittagong Port; which are not as much with exports as they are with the imports. Many a times, ships have to wait at the outer anchorage for a long time in absence of enough berthing space, plus there are inordinate delays on release of consignments from the port as well,” maintained Fazlul Hoque, Managing Director of Plummy Fashions and the ex-President of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), adding, “We work under tight deadlines, and such delays adversely impact the business.”
Talking about issues with the port, Fazlul claims there are multiple, be it in terms of infrastructure as well as management.
“First of all, there is not enough machinery/equipment to handle the export-import activities, plus most of the equipment that we have are old and less efficient. Also, there are several bottlenecks in the export/import handling process, which also eats into valuable time. In such a scenario, infrastructure development, use of latest and more efficient machines/equipment, speeding up the whole export-import process and overall better management of the day-to-day proceedings in the port can improve things significantly,” claimed the MD of Plummy Fashions.
It may be mentioned here that infrastructural bottlenecks seem to be a major challenge and, in a bid, to enhance the cargo handling capacity, the CPA is all set to get 283.23 acres of land soon for developing the Matarbari Port.
To this end, CPA has already handed over a cheque of Taka 75.11 crore to the Cox’s Bazar district administration office for the 283.23 acres of land acquired for the development project around the Matarbari seaport.
“…this port will minimise the pressure on the Chittagong Port alongside meeting the growing demand of the country’s import and export activities. Goods transportation to and from the potential industrial estates at Matarbari and Moheshkhali will also be facilitated once this port is established,” added Shahjahan.
However, till such times the Matarbari Port is ready, one has to look at enhancing the capacity and efficiency of the Chittagong Port.
If efforts are made towards infrastructure development of the port while also speeding up the whole import-export process, things are bound to improve, maintained Fazlul while Md Zafar Alam, a member of the Chittagong Port Authority earlier while speaking to the media. He also reportedly underlined that in 2019, the country’s premier port handled three million container units, up from two million in the previous year.
By this one can understand that although the port’s container handling capacity has risen significantly in a short span of time, the handling facilities themselves have not improved as much, added Zafar while adding that Government has already implemented up to 45 changes to the customs regulations in a bid to better facilitate trade.
Meanwhile, in a bid to lessen the pressure, container congestion and free up the occupied space, the port authorities had earlier doubled the storage rent while also divert the work of handling imported RMG consignments through the off-docks or privately-owned Inland Container Depots (ICDs).
But the move to route the work of handling imported RMG consignments through ICDs did not go down very well with the garment makers and it had resulted in a stalemate with the RMG sector’s apex body- the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) even shooting a letter to the National Board of Revenue or NBR requesting it to allow apparel exporters to use the Chittagong Port to get their imported consignments cleared even as the leaders of the ICD operators, the Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA), reportedly admitted that their fees are a bit on the higher, but denied having taken longer time to release the imported consignments. On the contrary, they actually perform the task faster than the Chittagong Port, they claimed.
“As to the off docks or private Inland Container Depots (ICDs), the time taken to release import consignments from there are more time consuming and costly. And given the current business scenario, getting the goods directly from the port is more desirable,” maintained Fazlul.
Meanwhile, speaking to Apparel Resources, Managing Director of Abruan Group Harun Ar Rashid observed: “To give an example of the delays that we have to face, it takes around 7 to 10 days from ETA to clearance while it takes 14 days for ETD to ETA from China… In the name of audit, the officials some time take around 15-25 days and after ETA, to unload a container, it takes around 4 to 7 days while the customs documentation processes is also very cumbersome.
In case the process gets stuck due to some reasons post lunch on Thursday, the it will take a period of three days till Sunday to complete the same. Also, many a time, the Customs Inspectors kill around 2-3 days and their attitude is also not very conducive for the businesses. Besides, un-authorised cost that one has to incur in the process is also 2-3 times then the acceptable cost.”
Given the views as expressed by the users of the Chittagong Port, it seems despite all the development and progresses made, Chittagong Port is still far from being ideal yet.