Foreign ships face uncertainty in getting key certificate
Operators of foreign container feeder vessels are allegedly facing unusual delays in obtaining the waiver certificate or failing to secure the document they need before loading cargoes to and from Bangladesh.
More than 10 foreign vessels have alleged that they have run into the problem in the past two weeks, making them worried about increasing shipping costs and time. This may prompt them to lose interest in continuing their service to and from Bangladesh.
Owing to the uncertainty, Dubai-based feeder operator Unifeeder yesterday decided to pull out Hansa Homburg, one of its two container ships, from the Chattogram-Colombo route.
Shahed Sarwar, deputy managing director of Crown Navigation, the local agent of Unifeeder, said it applied for the waiver certificate for the vessel to the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) of the Department of Shipping on February 12, seeking permission to load Chattogram-bound import containers at Colombo on February 28.
After four days, the MMD refused to issue the certificate following objection from the Bangladesh Ocean Going Ship Owners' Association (BOGSOA), he said.
Owing to the uncertainty, Dubai-based feeder operator Unifeeder yesterday decided to pull out Hansa Homburg, one of its two container ships, from the Chattogram-Colombo route
After knowing about the development, the regional office of Unifeeder in Singapore yesterday informed Crown Navigation that it was going to discontinue operating the vessel on the route, according to Sarwar.
The waiver is a document that displays the full details of the exporter, importer, how the shipping is done (container or groupage), the name of the ship, scale, the goods exported and the value of it and the cost of freight.
Leaders of the shipping agents who have already started meeting with the authorities over the issue have called for an immediate solution.
This is because if more foreign ship operators lose interest in Bangladesh and withdraw services, it may impact the shipping trade badly since the country's seaborne import-export trade is still mostly served by foreign ships, they said.
More than 90 per cent of Bangladesh's international trade of about $130 billion goes through sea routes.
Currently, 90 container feeder vessels, including eight owned by a Bangladeshi operator, connect the Chattogram port with the ports in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and China.
The country's lone container ship operator – HR Lines –operates six ships on the Chattogram-Colombo route and two on the Chattogram-Singapore route.
Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM), Singapore operates vessels on Chattogram, Singapore, South Korea and China routes.
One of its vessels, HMM Chittagong, has been denied the waiver, said its local agent. Another ship, HMM Dhaka, has been granted the waiver for loading cargoes from Singapore but was denied permission to take export cargoes from Chattogram.
The Bangladesh Flag Vessel (Protection) Act 2019 was passed with a provision for locally owned vessels to carry 50 per cent of all sea-borne cargoes.
According to the rules, local agents of a foreign vessel need to apply to the MMD in Chattogram to obtain the waiver certificate 15 days before they load any cargoes to and from Bangladesh. This aims at enabling national flag carriers to get adequate cargoes.
On February 5, the government published the Bangladesh Flag Vessel (Protection) Rules, 2023 and included obtaining the opinion of the BOGSOA before issuing the waiver certificate.
Now, the MMD forwards the application to Bangladesh Shipping Corporation and the BOGSOA and seeks opinion before issuing the document.
Agents of foreign container ships say though the law was enacted two years ago, they faced no problem in getting the waiver certificate till last month since the number of Bangladeshi flag vessels was low.
As both import and export to and from Chattogram fell in the last several months owing to global economic slowdown, local vessels are not getting adequate cargoes. So, the problem has arisen, said the top official of a shipping agent.
Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association Chairman Syed Mohammad Arif said the association follows rules and is always extending support to protect the interest of the national flag-carrying vessels.
"At the same time, we also need to ensure that our foreign trade is not disrupted."
On the Chattogram-Colombo route where Bangladeshi operator has strong presence, 75 per cent of containers were carried by international feeder vessels in January. It would be less than 5 per cent in other routes, said one agent.
Arif said some foreign ships have been given the waiver for one-way traffic. "This means they have been given the permission to bring import cargoes and they can't carry export cargoes. But this is not economical for them."
BOGSOA Chairman Azam J Chowdhury said the certificate is being issued abiding by rules. "We are also working to quicken the process of issuing the certificate."