Easing congestion at ports

Dhaka,  Fri,  22 September 2017
Published : 05 Aug 2017, 20:44:07

Easing congestion at ports

Amid the apparel sector's serious concern over congestion at the Chittagong Port, the authorities should give topmost priority to resolving the ongoing crisis for averting  possible damage to the export-oriented industry, writes Shahiduzzaman Khan
The country's readymade garment (RMG) sector is facing the worst time now, having to resort to air-shipments of export consignments due to delay in arrival of ships at the Chittagong Port. Some export orders of RMG consignments have already been cancelled. 

Such unwarranted situation may lead to the failure in meeting the lead time, resulting in shifting of orders to competitor countries like India, Myanmar and Vietnam. Such a situation can be reversed if fast action is taken. 

Emerging from a high-level meeting last week, Finance Minister A M A Muhith stressed the need for taking 'fast action' by all concerned to ease congestion at the Chittagong port to help lower the cost of doing business. He directed all banks at the port to remain open 24 hours as part of the government's efforts to help run export-import activities in the port. 

The finance minister asked the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) chairman to cancel licence of the private sector inland container depots, which fail to deliver services. He also asked the chairman of the Bangladesh Land Port Authority (MLPA) to construct an alternative road for transportation of goods. 

Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also asked the sea-port and the BLPA to keep the Chittagong and Benapole ports open for 24 hours to facilitate export-import activities. 

The present situation at the Chittagong port is reported to be very serious. Feeder vessels were leaving the port without using their full capacity, which had never happened before. Shipping analysts term it an 'unprecedented' situation. It is the worst congestion created due to the feeder vessels' leaving the port with containers less than that of their capacities. It has been reported that outbound container-laden vehicles are forced to stay in the port for several days, and they do not get adequate space to unload containers. 

Although the authorities have made several commitments to collect necessary equipment for the port and raise its capacity, serious efforts were seldom made in the past. However, the shipping minister claimed that steps were underway to reduce congestion in Chittagong Port. 

The port insiders blamed lack of necessary equipment and capacity constraint for the acute congestion in Chittagong Port. They also held bureaucratic red tape responsible for delay in taking steps for capacity development of the port.

CPA chairman said 'landlord' port system will be introduced to reduce the port authority's involvement in Chittagong Port operation. He demanded declaring the port as a thrust sector, exemption it from paying non-tax revenue, reforming customs scanning system for quick delivery, reducing physical inspection of goods, more off-dock in private sector, and review of tariff.

For long, the readymade garment (RMG) industry is suffering a lot due to lack of logistic support from the Chittagong Port. The industry is failing to cope with its competitors due to the port's inadequate capacity. Port users, exporters and importers have been demanding installation of cargo handling equipment for years, but the port authoritis failed to procure any equipment for a decade. On the other hand, average growth of the port's cargo handling is above 16 per cent.

There should be coordinated efforts of all stakeholders, including berth operators, CPA and Chittagong Customs House (CCH), to resolve the problems. The port has 21 rubber-tyred gantry cranes against the demand for 56. The cranes are as old as 30 years and some of them often become inoperative. On the other hand, there are only seven straddle carriers whereas the port needs at least 15. The prime seaport faces tremendous congestion of vessels and log jam of containers over the last few weeks which led to an unusual overstay of the vessels.

Allegations have it that the apparel sector has been suffering from a setback due to slow delivery of imported raw materials, making it difficult to produce and ship the products timely. It is taking 15-20 days for un-stuffing the LCL (Less than Container Load) containers from the ships while the berthing of vessels is being delayed by 7-8 days.  In many cases, exporters are being forced to make costly air shipments mainly to meet the schedule. 

Many feeder vessels missed the mother vessels due to slow pace of loading and unloading. The move of the port authorities in reducing the congestion has become a new challenge for the exporters in loading their products on the ships. They blamed inadequate handling equipment and shortage of jetties and yards for the congestion at the port.

There were 13 jetties at the port before the war of liberation and seven jetties were added in last 46 years. The trade bodies have long been pressing for increasing the capacity of the port through installing more jetties and yards, and increasing handling equipment. Since 2004, the capacity of the port has not been enhanced though the activities went up significantly with increased exports and imports.

The apparel industry is losing work orders worth $1.0 billion as the delivery of samples were taking much time due to congestion in the airport. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) demanded of the port authorities to make operational all the four gantry cranes after repairing the two damaged ones and procuring or hiring all the handling equipment shortly to resolve the ongoing crisis. 

A recent meeting of the CPA, off-dock owners and cargo handling operators of the port decided to expedite handling and delivery of containerised cargo through procurement of sufficient equipment by the off-dock owners alongside the port authority.

The meeting further decided that the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) will impose container freight station (CFS) cut-off time for exporters for sending export cargo to the ICDs so that the ICDs can maintain cut-off time for sending export laden containers to the Chittagong Port.

The ICDs will send export laden containers to the port between berthing of vessel and six hours before their sailing. The ICDs will also try to take out import laden containers of their designated 37 items at the shortest possible time. 

Amid the apparel sector's serious concern over the congestion at the port, the authorities should give topmost priority to resolving the ongoing crisis for averting possible damage to the export-oriented industry. If the situation prevails for long, analysts say, it will create an adverse impact on the sector as the port handles around 80 per cent of the total apparel exports.


Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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