CHITTAGONG, Oct 10: Shortage of smaller vessels -- used for lightering cargo from mother vessels -- has created a logjam of ships at Chittagong Port's outer anchorage in the deep sea, causing huge financial losses to importers, ship handling operators and shipping line operators.
The handling and berth operators alleged that they were not getting the lightering vessels on requisition because the Water Transport Cell (WTC), a private body to monitor supply of lightering vessels, could not register bookings mainly due to non-availability for more than last two months.
Most of the 1,200 lighter vessels were floating on rivers at different stations across the country for weeks as those could not unload and deliver cargoes to the importer's destination, an executive at the WTC in Chittagong said Monday, explaining the reason.
Generally, around 3,000 metric tons of cargoes are lightered a day from a mother vessel at the outer anchorage, but it goes up to 6,000 to 7,000 MT at peak.
All mother ships calling at the seaport unload a portion of the cargo at the anchorage to facilitate its berthing in the port jetty.
But, there are days and weeks when the mother vessels do not get even a single lightering vessel, said port sources.
The situation has aggravated as the Chittagong Port and off-docks have recently experienced severe container congestion due to a 4-day strike from September 26 to 29 enforced by the 14-wheel prime movers and 10-wheel trailer operators over a government ban on 33 MT plus weight on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
A Ship Handling and Berth Operator Association leader said that at least 150 lightering vessels are required a day to lighter cargo from the mother vessels at the outer anchorage.
At present, the WTC could supply only 20 to 30 vessels a day on average. As a result, he added, the mother vessels have to stay beyond schedule -- say for an additional 5-6 days -- to lighter the cargo and get berth at the port jetties for unloading the rest cargo.
A mother vessel's normal stay time at the Chittagong Port is five days, but they often have to delay by 5-6 days and, at times, the stay time goes up to 12-13 days.
The operators alleged that the importers, shop owners and ship handling operators have to count heavy financial losses, as a result.
Secretary General of Bangladesh Ship Handling Operators and Berth Operators Association Mashiul Alam Swapan told the FE Monday that at least 60 mother vessels with different types of cargo are currently waiting for lightering cargo at the outer anchorage.
He said the shortage of lighter vessels persists for more than last two months.
Major corporate houses like Bashundhara, City Group, Abul Khair Group and some others are free from such pressure as they have their own lightering vessels and get their raw materials discharged and delivered to factories timely. But the vast majority of importers are suffering. Lighter vessel operators blamed the importers for the impasse.
Captain Shafi Chaudhury said the importers keep the lighters afloat at different points of destination, using the vessels as their warehouses.