Congestion at Chattogram port has started easing thanks to the inclusion of new equipment for container handling, delivery of import containers from a place outside the port and strong monitoring, port users said.
However, some of the port users have raised concerns over the sustainability of the comfort, as the port may collapse again amid a surge in imports.
The port authorities has been purchasing new equipment for the last one and a half years and addition of six new quayside gantry cranes in August last year have fast tracked the port's activities.
This year, four more gantry cranes will be added to the port's fleet, which now has 10 of such cranes, according to port officials. “We have also started taking and releasing some of the import containers from a place outside the port,” said Omar Faruk, secretary of Chattogram Port Authority (CPA).
“This move helped us in creating more space inside the port for the handling of the newly imported containers, which as a result eased the port congestion to a great extent.”
The CPA has also begun supervising the port activities in a coordinated manner on a regular basis, he said.
“All the efforts paid off by easing the port congestion.”
The port has been suffering from acute congestion since May 2016 when on an average nine vessels waited daily to be unloaded while the figure reached as high as 10 at the end of that year.
According to data from the CPA, each container vessel had to wait for almost 5 days in the Bay to get a jetty in 2016-17, which increased to 5.5 days in 2017-18.
Since the concluding week of November last year, the situation started improving.
In the last two months, on an average 4 to 6 container vessels remained waiting at the outer anchorage everyday while the number was 15 in the same period in 2017, according to the CPA.
Vessels are now getting berth at the port jetties within two days of arriving at the outer anchorage while it took more than five days even three to four months back.
Kota Wangi, a Singapore flagged vessel that arrived at the outer anchorage on February 4, got berth at jetty No 3 of New Mooring Container Terminal on February 6.
The vessel left the port for Singapore on February 8 after discharging 484 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of import containers and loading around 1,000 TEUs export laden and empty containers.
With the improvement of the congestion, vessel's operating cost has come down significantly, said Michael Rodrigues, general manager of vessel operating firm Sea Consortium.
“Earlier, the operators had to count $10,000 to wait at the port for every additional day,” he said.
“Now we can arrange two round trips for a vessel in a month on Chattogram-Singapore or Chattogram-Malaysia routes since our vessels can now leave within four to five days while it was difficult several months back.”
Businesses are happy, as less time is needed now to get the import containers and go for exports, said Nasir Uddin Chowdhury, chairman of the BGMEA's standing committee on port and shipping.
He, however, said the challenge is still there for the port authority to continue easing the congestion, as the country's trade activities are growing every day.
There is no alternative to building new jetties and yard facilities in the port, otherwise the bitter experience of congestion can come back anytime during a sudden rise in cargo volume, he opined.
The ongoing projects to construct Patenga Container Terminal, Laldia Multi-purpose Terminal and the much-talked-about Bay terminal should be completed on time, Chowdhury said.
The number of vehicles that enter into the port to get delivery of the imported items is increasing every day, said Khairul Alam Sujan, director for ports and customs at Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association.