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25,000 imported containers stuck in transhipment ports

The delivery at Chattogram Port has been reduced by about 30-40% compared to normal times due to the ongoing lockdown

There have been uncertainties regarding the arrival and delivery of imported cargo containers at Chattogram Port due to the congestion at transhipment ports in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia, hampering production owing to a lack of raw materials and so causing financial losses to traders.

Many traders are not being able to capture the Ramadan market. At the same time, the cost of doing business is increasing, which they have to recover by increasing the prices of goods.

As there is no deep seaport in Bangladesh, large container ships cannot dock at the jetty of Chattogram Port. Therefore, container goods imported from different countries are first unloaded at the transhipment ports.

Workers at the Port of Colombo paused their activities last November due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused the congestion, said people knowledgeable about the matter.

Garment company Clifton Group Director MDM Mohiuddin Chowdhury said containers of almost every garment company were stuck at transhipment ports.

Most of the containers coming from Europe have been stuck in the transhipment port.

The Clifton Group imported three containers of raw materials from the United States last week. The containers were stuck for 50 days at the transhipment port of Colombo as there was a lack of feeder vessels due to an increase in import volume.

About 25,000 TEUs containers of imported industrial raw materials from many garment companies in the country have long been stuck at the transhipment ports. According to several shipping lines, most of the containers – around 20,000 TEUs – are stuck in Colombo.

Ajmir Hossain Chowdhury, assistant general manager at Mediterranean Shipping Company, said, “Around 9,000 TEUs containers in our shipping line are stuck at the Port of Colombo due to the congestion of ships there.”

He said many feeder operators had operated small vessels instead of large vessels during the epidemic, leading to the crisis.

Syed Arif Hossain, the newly elected chairman of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association, told The Business Standard that containers stuck in the transhipment ports will hurt the country’s trade and commerce.

MDM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, who is director of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said that the crisis has been caused by Covid-19 and “we have to bear extra fare per container. 

“Even after the arrival of the container at Chattogram Port, the delivery of the container is being delayed due to red tape on the part of the institutions concerned. In this situation it has become difficult to continue production in factories,” he added.

Chattogram Port data show that the delivery at the port has been reduced by about 30-40% compared to normal times due to the ongoing lockdown and traders fear that the situation might worsen in future.

During normal times, an average of 4,000-5,000 containers are delivered per day, but since the beginning of the lockdown, the number has dropped to 3,000-3,500. Traders are worried about the slow pace of container delivery. The number of containers has also started increasing in the port yard.

Importers have said that last month, it took up to 26 days to get a berthing of scrap cargo ships and around three days for container ships. After being stranded at the transhipment ports for a long time, it is not possible to deliver the goods to Chattogram Port due to the crisis caused by the lockdown.

People concerned said that since the lockdown went underway in the country on 5 April, container delivery has started to decrease. As per previous rules, operational activities at Chattogram Port are running 24/7. However, other institutions associated with the port were not fully operational.

Muntasir Rubaiyat, the newly elected director of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association, said that there are berthing delays at transhipment ports for 2-3 days. As the crisis is protracted, there has been a ship jam.

A feeder vessel at Chattogram Port used to be able to transport goods within 15 days, which at present takes more than 1.5 months. As a result, the amount of containers stuck over time is increasing. Due to the ship crisis and berthing deals, it is not possible to deliver container goods quickly, he added.

The port authorities issued a directive on 12 April to keep the port operational in the Covid-19 situation.

According to the directive, the transport department, shipping agents, berth operators, terminal operators, ship handling operators and other port users will provide necessary assistance to the customs department to expedite delivery from Chattogram Port.

The Secretary of Chattogram Port Authority, Md Omar Farooq, said that the activities of the port are running 24 hours as usual despite the lockdown but deliveries have declined due to the lockdown. However, it has not yet created a major crisis.

He added that as Chattogram Port is a tidal port, there are tidal issues in ship berthing and so it takes 2-3 days to get berthing.

Average turnaround time or median time in Chattogram port
Year    Container ship    By bulk carriers
2020    3.06 days    6.24 days
2019    3.03 days    5.37 days
2018    2.97 days    5.77 days

Source: UNCTAD

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