The Chittagong Port is the principal seaport of Bangladesh. Located in the port city of Chittagong on the banks of the Karnaphuli River, the port handles around 90 per cent of Bangladesh’s export-import and understandably so its role and importance from Bangladesh’s perspective, is immense.
Nevertheless, the port, on and off,hit the headlines for reasons, which can be termed as counterproductive from the perspective of trade and commerce, whether it be the so-called infrastructural bottlenecks, or container and traffic congestion.
With reference to the same, very recently the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) has doubled the rent for FCL import containers staying in the port yard for more than 11 days, a move that followed after the facility reportedly became flooded with uncollected boxes even as reports suggest that the number of FCL containers at the port yard exceeded its designated capacity of 34,864 TEUs(twenty-foot equivalent units), forcing the port authority to store them at places allocated for other boxes.
Even if the penalty was supposed to be introduced on 1st March, it was withheld at the request of the port users’ forum who pledged to take delivery of as many containers as possible to bring down the numbers to a reasonable state within a week.However, with the delivery situation failing to improve much, the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA)reportedly decided on bringing the rate change from 8th March.
The store rent is now double than the normal one,stated the CPA spokesperson Omar Faruk speaking to the media while adding that the additional rent would be withdrawn when the number of containers at the port yard return to a reasonable level.
It may be mentioned here that usually, the port authority allows an import container to stay at the port yard for four days without paying any rent, after which, it can charge up to US$12 per TEU and US$24 per FEU (Forty Foot Equivalent unit), in addition to regular daily rent, to discourage importers to use the port yard as a warehouse.
Earlier, the CPA Chairman Rear Admiral M Shahjahan reportedly urged the importers to immediately take delivery of the containers to help facilitate smooth operations at the port yard even as he underlined that the shippers only take delivery of containers four days a week, despite the port operating every day.
“During Friday, Saturday and Sunday the number of container deliveries is very poor,” maintained the CPA Chairman even as port officials claimed that importers were storing goods, including essential commodities, ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, slated to start mid-April, and Eid-ul-Fitr in May, while adding that the importers prefer to use the port yard as a warehouse as the usual rent in the port yard is much lower than outside.
“The importers alone are not responsible,” reportedly claimed the President of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mahbubul Alam, speaking to the media, adding that sometimes the required documents for releasing containers do not come in time or fail to get clearance from a bank and, especially on weekday holidays, processing documents at customs offices is not done properly as many of the offices relating to the releasing of containers remain shut, even as he urged the shippers: “You have to take delivery of the containers as fast as possible.” He also called upon the port authority to reconsider the rent increase considering the fact that businesses are still feeling the pinch of the Coronavirus pandemic.
According to the CPA traffic department, the port received 4,500 TEUs of import-laden containers from vessels on an average every day in the 14 days to February 28 while in contrast, only 3,500 TEUs of containers were reportedly taken away from the port on an average every day even if as on1st March, 2021, some 40,000 TEUs of containers reportedly were inside the port, meaning some 82 per cent of its capacity to store 49,018 TEUs had been used up.
The yard dedicated to storing import-laden containers was holding 38,063 TEUs against a capacity of 39,518 TEUs.
According to reports which cited port sources, importers can store containers in the port yard without any charge for four days after unloading. After the four days, a 20-foot container costs US$ 6 per day for the first week, and US$ 12 per day for the second week. Then from the third week, the charge increases to US$24 per day even as port officials claimed imports through the port increase ahead of Ramadan as many businessmen use the port yard for storing the goods since they do not have their warehouses.
As a result, the port authorities face container congestion in almost every Ramadan.
However, not all think that doubling the charges would bring in that sought-after solution even if some said that if port-related offices do not improve, Chittagong port’s performance will remain poor.
“We expect the Chittagong Port Authority to reconsider doubling the store rents. Both businesses and consumers will be benefited if the issue can be resolved by other means,” reportedly underlined Kazi Mahmud Imam Bilu, the First Joint General Secretary of the Chittagong C&F Agents Association, even as Mahbubul Alam, on his part added, “On the other hand, the pandemic-led crisis has not ended. Doubling rents at this time could affect market prices. The port authority should reconsider it.”
Meanwhile, if piling up of the containers was not all, the port, which is the lifeline for the country’s economy, is allegedly also at risk of a mishap as a huge volume of hazardous and flammable goods allegedly remain piled up at the port shed for a long period of time.
As per the CPA, the hazardous products that are piled up in the port sheds should be cleared or destroyed on an urgent basis to avoid any risk to the country’s premier seaport even as in a letter to the Customs House, it requested to clear the hazardous goods that remained undelivered for long.
According to sources at CPA, a total of 1862 packages or equivalent to 466 metric tonnes of chemical and hazardous goods had remained piled up at ‘P’ Shed of Chittagong Port till January 31. Of them, 1137 packages or equivalent to 150 metric tonnes of the hazardous chemical for long remained undelivered and turned risky for the port.
We are requesting to clear those items through auction or destroy all of these risky goods by any means at the earliest, reportedly underlined the CPA in its letter to Customs House while a recent inter-ministerial meeting presided over by State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury reportedly also discussed handling the chemical, flammable and dangerous goods at sea and land ports of the country.
The meeting has taken two decisions over the issue- it has asked all the stakeholders to focus on how quickly flammable and dangerous goods can be cleared from the port yard, sources said while also deciding to relocate those items to private Inland Container Depots (ICD) instead of port shed.
It may be mentioned here that importers need to get delivery of their imported goods within 30 days after the consignments are unloaded from ships at the port jetty, and if they fail to get delivery within 30 days, the port authorities send the import documents of those consignments to the customs authorities which gives notice to the importer and, if the importer does not get delivery of the goods within 15 days of issuing of the notice, the customs authorities can auction those off.
But, products and goods including hazardous ones remain undelivered year after year at the port yard posing a threat to the entire port, maintained reports citing sources even as the CPA reportedly underlined that they hand over the auctionable and destroyable goods to the customs authority for auction and destroy timely.
However, though the goods have been delivered to the customs authority in paper, some goods reportedly remain piled up in the port’s shed and yard.
Such a development assumes even more significance in light of the massive blast at the port city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, in 2020. As per reports, on 4th August 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of the city of Beirut exploded, causing at least 210 deaths, 7,500 injuries and US$ 15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.
A cargo of 2,750 tonnes of the substance (equivalent to around 1.1 kilotons of TNT) had reportedly been stored in a warehouse without proper safety measures for the previous six years, after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the abandoned ship MV Rhosus, even as the blast that took place later on was felt across Turkey, Syria, Israel, Palestine and parts of Europe, and was heard in Cyprus, more than 240 km away.
Considering such incidents, Bangladesh would do well to get rid of such materials from the Chittagong Port at the earliest to help prevent any mishaps that might put the country’s exports in jeopardy while also causing damage to the life and property, as has been witnessed in case of Lebanon.