Ships have frequently been colliding with each other and running aground at Chittagong port's outer anchorage and approaches for the last couple of months, raising concerns among ship owners, charterers, shipping agents and other stakeholders.
Over 30 such incidents occurred from July to October, according to local representative firms of international protection and indemnity (P&I) clubs, which provide liability coverage for oceangoing vessels.
One collision on September 9 with Malta flagged vessel MV Orhan led to a crack on Belize flagged vessel My Meray, where water damaged around 7,400 tonnes of TSP fertiliser, as per a local agent of the latter.
Two P&I clubs—The American Club and Gard—have recently issued warnings asking members to take extra precaution and care.
The American Club's alert on September 20 was titled “Perils at Anchorage of Chittagong, Bangladesh''. It said collision risks had increased owing to strong spring/flood/monsoon tides and silted shallows.
Most collisions resulted from manoeuvring vessels failing to take account of the variability and strength of the tide and currents, leading to contact between anchored and embarking vessels, it stated.
Port users mainly blame an unprecedented congestion at the outer anchorage, where a huge number of bulk carriers wait for days to discharge cargoes due to a scarcity of lighter vessels.
A seminar was organised by the Nautical Institute's Chittagong branch at a Chittagong restaurant on Saturday to underscore the need for raising awareness and take remedial steps to avoid accidents.
Maritime professionals of the international representative body expressed deep concern over the increasing number of accidents since it could create a negative image of the port.
The institute's chairman, MA Fasihur Rahman, in a keynote speech said ships were making some common mistakes such as not following prescribed directions, making errors in navigation and failing to judge effects of tidal currents and not calculating the tidal rise.
He advised ships should take particular account of tides, currents, weather conditions, wind direction and speed while crossing or anchoring and keeping a distance of around half a nautical mile between ships to avoid collisions.
Fasihur Rahman said the three zones at the outer anchorage could safely accommodate at best 42 vessels but currently there were over 100.
Habibur Rahman, former principal officer of Mercantile Marine Department, stressed the need for following previous investigation reports of accidents to avoid these things in future.
Shahin Rahman, member for harbour and marine at Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), said they were planning to expand the port's capacity as more ships are arriving because of rising imports.
He also emphasised educating merchant mariners on tidal currents and other aspects of the area.
Omar Faruq, CPA secretary, said they were upgrading the regulation on safe navigation in the area for the masters.