The Chittagong port is experiencing record container congestion owing to non-operation of long vehicles that carry loaded and empty containers to and from the harbour for the last four days.
If the situation continues for two more days the port would face a deadlock, according to officials of the Chittagong Port Authority.
Covered vans bring the export cargoes from factories all over the country to the 16 private inland container depots in Chittagong for loading into export containers.
The containers are then sent through long vehicles like prime movers or trailers to the port for loading onto the ships waiting at the jetties.
On Monday, Prime Mover, Trailer Malik Sramik Oikya Parishad, a platform of the owners and workers of the vehicles, went on an indefinite strike after the Road Transport and Highways Division launched a crackdown on overloaded vehicles on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway.
From August 17, if a trailer on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway is found weighing more than 33 tonnes, it is subjected to fines that start from Tk 2,000 and can go up to Tk 12,000.
The leaders of the platform accused the Road Transport and Highways Division staff of harassing the trailer drivers for fines. Besides, the cut-off weight of 33 tonnes is unfair as per international metrics of overloaded vehicles, they said.
To make the situation worse, the leaders of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ and Workers’ Federation also threatened to enforce an indefinite strike in the greater Chittagong division from Sunday if the harassment is not stopped by Saturday.
About 97 percent of the country’s import and export activities are carried through the Chittagong port.
The development has dealt a massive blow to both the export and import activities in the country.
Some 2,700 twenty-foot equivalent units of export containers missed the shipments in the last four days as the vessels left without the cargoes on board.
The garment sector, which works with a tight lead time, is the worst sufferer of the strike, said Nasiruddin Ahmed Chowdhury, former first vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
For instance, RSB Industrial Ltd, an export-oriented garment factory based in the Chittagong Export Processing Zone, missed shipments of two containers loaded with goods yesterday as a result of the strike.
The two containers were bound for the Netherlands and the US for Under Armour, an American sports clothing and accessories company.
Expressing deep concern over the missed shipment, Anjan Shekhar Das, managing director of RSB Industrial, said the buyer expressed unwillingness to strike any new deal following the Gulshan attack but he managed to get the order after much convincing.
“Now it is uncertain whether the consignment will reach on time,” said Das, also a former director of BGMEA with anxiety.
“Several vessels have left the port without taking the export containers. The exporters will now have to go for air shipment to make sure the cargoes reach the buyers on time,” Chowdhury said.
For instance, MV Saigon Bridge, which berthed at the port on September 26 and was supposed to take 700 TEUs of export containers, was still waiting at the port for the cargoes.
Shahed Sarwar, executive director of the ship’s local agent K Line Bangladesh, said they only got 14 TEUs of export containers.
The ship has to bear huge losses since it will now have to leave with only empty containers. The freight for a goods laden container is $200, while that for an empty container is $80, he said.
The garment sector is also suffering as the imported raw materials are not arriving due to the strike, according to Chowdhury.
“If the strike continues we could miss our shipment deadline,” said Syed M Tanvir, director of Pacific Jeans.
All called for an immediate solution to the issue to save the country’s export sector.
As of yesterday, a record 40,250 TEUs of containers were stockpiled at the port yards, exceeding the storage capacity of 36,357 TEUs of containers, according to the traffic department of CPA.
Of this number, about 27,182 TEUs of full container load of imports were lying against the storage capacity of 22,485 TEUs.
The number of empty containers reached 7,550 TEUs against the capacity of 5,550 TEUs.
Contacted, CPA Member Md Zafar Alam said the situation has reached its worst point as the delivery of loaded import containers as well as empty containers remained fully suspended due to the strike.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry has expressed deep concern over the strike.
It has urged the shipping and commerce ministries, the mayor of Chittagong City, CPA, law enforcement agencies and the other relevant authorities to take the necessary steps for the withdrawal of the strike and ensure smooth movement of export and import activities.
Source: The Daily Star