Congestion paralyzes Chittagong port

Congestion paralyzes Chittagong port

The Chittagong port is in desperate need of infrastructure improvements.

Severe congestion in Bangladesh’s prime seaport Chittagong caused by low draft and broken ship-to-shore gantry cranes has crippled loading and unloading, nearly doubling the average time ships spend in port, and there's no immediate solution on hand.

The congestion, which has driven up ships’ average time in port 43.1 percent to 84.3 hours between January and June, appears to be worsening. July’s average time in port for container ships was already at 54 hours with just less than half of the month left, according to IHS Markit data. The congestion began to mount in April, when average time in port was 62.7 hours, and jumped in May to 67 hours. Each day an average of 15 to 20 box ships waits at the outer anchorage for unloading.

The loss of nearly 2 meters (6.6 feet) in draft has only made matter worse. Six of the 13 jetties at the port are in the range of 6 to 7 meters, preventing ships with drafts of 8.5 meters, which commonly call the port, from berthing, and forcing them rely on just two jetties able to accommodate such ships.

After cranes at those two jetties unload containers from 8.5-meter-draft vessels to reduce their draft to 6 meters, the ships are shifted to other jetties with depth of 6.5 meters to unload the rest of the containers and the process repeats. This is leading to higher costs on top of the delay because of the need to pay two different groups of workers to unload the ships. Meanwhile, ocean carriers have been pushing congestion surcharges for Chittagong-bound container ships from Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Guangzhou by $50 to $275, according to port officials.

From June 15 Maersk Line began charging $600 per container into Chittagong ships from north and south Asia, up was from $400 to $450 in November last year.

The port has acknowledged the dredging issues, but said it is unable to take action.

“We can’t dredge there due to high rate of berth occupancy,” Chittagong port spokesman Zafar Alam told JOC.com, adding the berth occupancy rate is nearly 80 percent.

Shippers, facing a lead time crisis because of their inability to get raw materials off ships and into their factories, have been clamoring for government support.

Shipping minister Shajahan Khan on Tuesday promised that he and the government were doing all that it could, and has called for a July 24 meeting with a cross-section of port users to work on a solution.

A. K. Azad, chairman of Ha-Meem Group, a top garment manufacturer with annual turnover of $550 million, said his sector is now in massive trouble because of the worsening of what was already pronounced and painful Chittagong congestion.

“The control of apparel sector is now going to the grip of neighboring India due to various problems. The government should take immediate measure to resolve the port congestion,” he said.

Chittagong’s port traffic jumped 16 percent year over year in 2016 to 2.3 million TEU, nearly double its designed annual capacity of 1.7 million TEU. Since 2012, the port’s capacity has grown by only 8,000 TEU while the number of container-handling equipment has been flat.

Contact Syful Islam at syful-islam@outlook.com.