What are the main problems at Chittagong Port right now?
Right now, the biggest one is the container congestion that took shape throughout Ramadan in May-June and is still plaguing the port.
The congestion worsened when cyclone Mora had hit us. All operations were suspended for five days. But, the situation couldn’t be handled properly as there was no coordination between CNF, ICDs, customs, Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), exporters and importers.
During Eid vacations, many garment owners did not clear out their trucks and containers, which added to the congested situation.
Since then, the off-docks have been working overtime to clear them out, but the situation is yet to return to normal.
We also have limitations when it comes to running the private ICDs, the policies and machineries. Other stakeholders are not doing anything to increase the port’s efficiency.
Do you think upcoming shipments will worsen the congestion situation?
I think so. Huge shipments of rice are being imported by private traders which could very easily worsen the situation.
We are under tremendous pressure. So, I have proposed to the CPA chairman to initiate a duel delivery system which will allow the importers to clear their cargo from both the port and ICDs.
Does the CPA take initiatives to adapt with new changes?
Not really. But this matter also depends on the other stakeholders.
However, for instance, the private ICD policy was enacted in 1998 and it wasn’t updated until last year. Even, no new equipment was bought for the port in the last 15 years. The port needs eight Gantry cranes, but currently it has only four. Two of them are out of order.
The Shipping Ministry, however, formulated another private ICD policy draft in 2016. We gave them our 17-point observations and demands that also include installation of scanners.
How costly it is for ICDs to set up a scanner?
The whole installation process of a scanner generally costs about Tk 15 crores.
It will be impossible for a small private ICD, which handles 2000 to 3000 TEUs daily, to set up a scanner. But it won’t be a problem for an ICD owner with a Tk 300 crore business.
Is the government’s decision to have the port operate 24 hours a day good for economy?
Yes. This is good for us as we are reaching for the middle income country status. But the announcement should have come earlier.
However, a coordinated effort will be needed to keep the port open round-the-clock. Customs, Sonali Bank, quarantine office and the atomic energy office will have to stay open simultaneously to ensure smooth process.
What’s your opinion on the Finance Minister’s proposal to cancel the licenses of ICDs?
Some vested quarters, for their benefit, had misled Finance Minister AMA Muhith and are still trying to have the ICDs’ work permits cancelled.
This is a conspiracy against us. We can ensure efficient handling of the containers.
Chittagong Port controls 80% of container handling and spends seven to 15 days to release the shipments. But we take only four to five days.
In 1999, the ICDs together used to handle 15,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) of containers in a day, and now we handle 65,000 TEUs.
How can anyone say that we are not performing well?
We were not invited in the last meeting the Finance Minister had at his ministry’s conference room, but in every meeting everybody seems to question our efficiency and that is a bad practice.
The minister said we are useless and we are not contributing to the economy. But the private ICDs are now an integral part of Chittagong Port as they handle 90% of containerised exports and 23% of imported containers.