Ctg, Benapole ports to stay open 24/7
The government yesterday decided to keep Benapole and Chittagong ports operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week from next month with an aim to ease export and import activities.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to open the extended service at the country's largest land and sea ports on August 1, says a press release from the shipping ministry.
The decision, made in an inter-ministry meeting at the shipping ministry, came at a time when the Benapole port is facing a manpower crisis. At the Chittagong port, a shortage of jetties is making vessels wait at the outer anchorage for offloading.
Talking to The Daily Star, several officials and port users said the number of the staff must be increased and infrastructure of the ports developed if the authorities were to keep those open round-the-clock.
Contacted, Shipping Secretary Ashok Madhab Roy said the government made the decision following an order from Sheikh Hasina. The PM gave the order at a meeting with secretaries on July 2, he said.
Asked, he claimed it would be possible to run the ports 24/7 with the existing manpower.
Representatives from foreign ministry, home ministry, National Bureau of Revenue (NBR), Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Land Port Authority and Chittagong sea port participated in the meeting chaired by Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan.
The meeting decided that the foreign ministry would write to its Indian counterpart so that Petrapole land port in West Bengal is also kept open round-the-clock. Petrapole is on the Indian side of Petrapole-Benapole border.
Apart from the customs office, the immigration department, banks and offices of Border Guard Bangladesh also would need to stay open 24 hours every day, the meeting discussed.
BENAPOLE LAND PORT
At present, the customs house at the Benapole port has only half of the manpower it requires for functioning smoothly and it is hampering the export and import activities there.
As many as 173 of the 341 posts at the customs office and 20 of the 120 posts at the port office in Benapole are vacant, reports our Benapole correspondent, citing officials concerned.
Several top officials at the customs office said although Benapole was announced commissionerate in November, 2000, it never had sufficient manpower.
“On several occasions, we talked to NBR in this regard but to no avail,” said an official, wishing not to be named.
Some 500 trucks carrying import goods, worth around Tk 20 crore, and 250 trucks with export goods, worth around Tk 10 crore, go through the port every day, said officials.
Currently, the customs office remains open from 9:00am to 5:00pm. However, loading and offloading of goods at the port may continue till midnight.
Mofizur Rahman, president of C&F Agent Association, loading and offloading of goods were often delayed due to a lack of manpower, which creates troubles for importers.
“The workload is huge. One official has to do the work of two to three officials,” he said.
Shawkat Hossain, commissioner at the Benapole customs house, also said regular activities at the port were being hampered due to the crisis. He said extra manpower has to be hired for a round-the-clock operation there.
Rezaul Islam, deputy director at the port, said they would need twice or even thrice the number of their current staff in this regard.
CHITTAGONG SEA PORT
The Chittagong port has been witnessing a congestion of vessels at its outer anchorage for the last two months.
Talking to The Daily Star, port officials said the main reason behind the situation is lack of jetties and equipment needed for dealing with increasing number of bulk cargoes and containers.
There is no alternative to constructing new jetties and terminals at the ports but it will need time, they said.
Zafar Alam, member (member and planning) at the Chittagong Port Authority, said the port always remained open except three days during the two Eids.
“The other stakeholders, including importers and exporters, have to be active 24 hours. We are always ready to deliver goods whenever the clearing and forward agents come,” he said.
Previously, value assessment of export cargoes was carried out seven days a week at the Chittagong customs house. Since July 6, the same has been done with the import cargoes, said officials, adding that on average, two lakh metric tonnes of goods are imported and exported through this sea port every day.
AFM Abdullah Khan, commissioner at the customs house, said the cleaning and forwarding agents needed to stay active all the time.
FBCCI WELCOMES GOVT DECISION
Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, has welcomed the government decision to keep the ports open 24/7.
However, with the current capacity, be it manpower, equipment or the infrastructure, it might be difficult to deliver services to the importers and exporters at a quick pace, he said.
The 24-hour operation was not enough. All the logistic supports, including off-docks, banks, C&F agents offices, loading and offloading staff, also need to be ready for ensuring a round-the-clock operation at the ports.
He said the government needed more manpower and heavy equipment at the Chittagong port.
For example, he said, there were only four gantries, meant for carrying goods from offshore to onshore for transportation, at the port.
“We need at least 10 such gantries at this moment as our work has increased manifold over the years,” he said.
Sometimes, it takes 10 to 12 days to offload goods from the port, which create problems for everybody, including the foreign trade partners, he said.