Priority for Colombo-bound ships delaying others

A temporary decision to give priority berthing to Colombo-bound vessels at Chattogram port amid a pileup of export containers at private off docks last month is now causing berthing delays for other vessels destined for the two other transhipment ports.

Container vessels bound for Singapore and Malaysia's Port Klang are currently being forced to wait for 5 to 7 days at the outer anchorage for berthing.

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Through these two transhipment ports, the country receives over 75 per cent of import containers and sends out about 55 to 60 per cent of exports.

Prioritising is severely having adverse effects on berthing schedules of ships connecting to Singaporean and Malaysian transhipment ports, said shipping agents.

They fear it may create a major backlog at those transhipment ports for the country's imports.

Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association (BSAA) in a letter to the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) chairman on Saturday urged withdrawing priority berthing and maintaining usual equal treatment for all container vessels when allocating berths.

Early last month a huge quantity of export cargo and export-laden containers had been piling up at different private inland container depots (ICDs), popularly known as off docks.

These exports could not be timely shipped off due to a global shortage of empty containers and a crisis of space in mother vessels at different transhipment ports.

The exporters sat in several meetings with the shipping secretary and CPA chairman to solve the export backlog.

In one July 12 meeting, the CPA took several decisions, including the priority berthing one, on identifying that most of the containers piling up were those bound for Colombo.

The priority berthing ended up increasing the waiting period for vessels bound for Singapore and Malaysia's Port Klang.

Singapore-bound MV SOL Delta arrived at the outer anchorage on July 19.

The CPA at first fixed July 23 for it to berth but cancelled it on that very day and instead allowed a Colombo-bound vessel to berth.

The CPA also cancelled SOL Delta's berthing schedules two more times on July 24 and July 25 to accommodate two other Colombo-bound vessels.

The vessel was finally able to get berth on July 26 after waiting for seven days at the outer anchorage.

Muntasir Rubayat, head of operations of the ship's local agent GBX Logistics, said the ship's operator had to bear five days of additional charter hire amounting to $75,000.

Like SOL Delta, four other Singapore-bound vessels SOL Malaysia, Marine Bia and Marine Taraba also had to wait for six days each before getting berths, according to the shipping agents.

Around 77 percent of the country's total import containers of the last six months till June came through two transhipment ports of Singapore and Port Klang while the rest came through Colombo, according to data from the shipping agents.

Over 56 per cent of the country's total export-laden containers from January to June went through these two transhipment ports and the rest through Colombo.

A total of 436 vessels plied between the Chattogram port and these two transhipment ports in the same period while only 149 vessels plied on the Chattogram-Colombo route.

BSAA Chairman Syed Mohammad Arif told The Daily Star yesterday that the increase in waiting periods would certainly create a major bottleneck for the country's import containers at those two transhipment ports.

Arrival of imported raw materials for the readymade garment sector will suffer delays and subsequently it will hamper timely export of the finished products of those factories, he said. 

As the backlog of Colombo-bound export containers has been minimised to a reasonable extent in the past three weeks, the authority should now withdraw the priority and restart the "first come first serve" policy for all container vessels, Arif added.

CPA Secretary Md Omar Faruk said the shipping agents unanimously agreed with the CPA's decision of giving priority berthing to Colombo-bound vessels temporarily to clear the export backlog.

He said they would soon withdraw it upon improvement of the situation.  

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