The outer anchorage of Chittagong port is seeing long queues of ships as offloading of imported goods from these ships has been mostly suspended for the last 10 days due to non-operation of lighter vessels.
The vessels remained off the water first because of a six-day workers' strike till April 26. The strike ended after the shipping ministry at a tripartite meeting on April 26 decided that the water transport workers' pay would be hiked 135 percent.
The owners, however, objected to the decision and suspended operation of their vessels. The suspension continued as of filing this report last night.
A total of 65 ocean-going vessels carrying around 18 lakh tonnes of 12 types of imported goods including food grains were moored at the outer anchorage till yesterday for lightering the goods there.
Goods were partially offloaded from only 18 out of the 65 ships till yesterday as a few industry owners arranged offloading with their own lighter vessels over the last four days.
Goods carried by these 65 mother vessels include cement clinker, wheat, coal, scrap, ball clay, steel billets, peas, stone, raw sugar, urea, salt and crude oil.
Only four types of goods -- cement clinker, peas, raw sugar and crude oil --could be lightered on a small scale in last four days by the industry owners' vessels.
A total of 36 vessels are now waiting with 9.94 lakh tonnes of cement clinkers while only 40 thousand tonnes could be lightered in 24 hours till 8:00am yesterday.
CPA Deputy Conservator Captain Najmul Alam said despite long queues, there is still no vessel congestion at the outer anchorage since the vast area with around 80 square miles can accommodate more ships without any problem.
The ship-handling operators, however, said such queue would slow down the lightering of goods even once the stalemate is over.
Meanwhile, leaders of cargo vessel owners' associations will meet in Dhaka today and decide whether to end the non-operation of vessels.
Yesterday, they held a three-hour meeting with the chairman of Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) here.
CPA Chairman Rear Admiral M Khaled Iqbal at the urgent meeting requested the owners to withdraw their decision to suspend operation to ease cargo congestion at the outer anchorage. He assured them of considering their points on pay hike of workers.
Talking to journalists after the meeting, Khorshed Alam, senior vice-president of Bangladesh Cargo Vessel Owners Association (BCVOA), said they had briefed the CPA chairman about different problems they face.
“He assured us he would discuss the issues with the shipping minister. We will now discuss the matter with leaders of other owners' organisations and we hope we will be able to take a positive decision tomorrow.”
He said leaders of the BCVOA, Coastal Ship Owners Association of Bangladesh and Tankers Owners Association would sit today.
Sources present at yesterday's meeting said the port chairman urged them to withdraw their decision as long queues of ships were waiting for lightering imported goods at the outer anchorage.
The cargo owners argued that it was difficult for them to pay around 135 percent hiked pay, said a BCVOA leader preferring anonymity.