Chittagong shippers in uproar over unending congestion

Chittagong shippers in uproar over unending congestion

Shipper frustration with the port of Chittagong continues to mount.

A long queue of vessels at Chittagong port’s outer anchorage and truck lines outside terminal gates are causing an uproar among port users.

The delays are leading to shortages of raw materials for manufacturers in the country, while shippers must deal with the extra costs of congestion surcharges and shipping agents say that shipowners are showing an unwillingness to send vessels to the port.

“Shippers are forced to pay extra for each day vessels wait in the port,” Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association (BSAA) President Ahsanul Huq Chowdhury told JOC.com.

As of Tuesday 11 container ships and 17 other ships were waiting at the outer anchorage, and some have been waiting between 15 and 53 days, according to local shipping agents. In an Aug. 30 letter, the BSAA said that it now takes around 15 days for ships to berth at the port.

Container ships at anchor, represented by blue circles, wait outside the port of Chittagong

Meanwhile, it takes trucks around two days to enter container yards, unload containers, get a new box, and exit the port area.

Chowdhury said the port authority has not adequately prepared for the growth in throughput at the port, which is now double its designed TEU capacity as the economy of Bangladesh has grown at around 7 percent annually in the last few years.

“So, now the port is failing to handle goods in time,” he said. 

Among those the delays have hampered productions lines is BSRM Group, which said it has not been unable to offload the scrap it needs, increasing costs by $20 for each ton, according to CEO Tapan Sengupta.

As the delays and costs mount, consumers will ultimately pay the price, said Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) President Mahbubul Alam, who wants the port authority to build more than one terminal at a time to solve the problem. The government of Bangladesh has enlisted the help of the army to rush construction on a terminal that should open in mid-2019.

Container shippers are unlikely to find relief soon, as a rice and wheat crisis in the country has forced port officials to give priority to vessels loaded with food, driving up the wait time for other ships, port officials said.

Some of the ships at anchor simply will not call Chittagong, according to port spokesperson Zafar Alam. “Goods of those vessels won't unloaded to lightering vessels [flat bottom barges] and be carried across the country by waterways.”

“We are raising the number of lightering vessels so that non-containerized vessels can be unloaded quickly,” he said, adding some 48 percent of total goods handled by Chittagong port are being delivered in outer anchorage.

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