Finance minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith at a meeting in the secretariat on Monday, highlighted the problems of Chittagong port, saying, “It is a matter of great shame that a ship has to wait so long at the port for goods to be unloaded. This is a national loss. Time is wasted and costs go up.” Shipping minister Shahjahan Khan was also present at the meeting, among others, but he remained silent.
The business community, the readymade garment manufacturers and exporters in particular, has long been saying what the finance minister pointed out at the meeting. Last month, the leaders of the readymade garment sector termed the vessel congestion at the port as ‘extremely dangerous’. At that time, 15 vessels would be waiting at the outer anchorage. On Wednesday, 22 vessels were waiting to be berthed at the jetty. That means the situation at the port has worsened.
Faced with this situation, BGMEA (Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association) leaders called a press conference on Monday. They said that the vessels arriving at the port with raw materials for the garment industry had to wait for days on end to be unloaded due to the congestion over the last two and a half months. As a result, extra payment had to be made to the container-carrying ships.
A large part of the imported goods at Chittagong port comprised raw materials and machineries of the garment sector. Due to delay at the port, it took extra time to take these goods to the factories. The entire process from production to export faced inordinate delay. It made delivering the orders to the foreign customers on time uncertain.
The port systems of Bangladesh’s competitors in the garment sector are much more developed. These countries include Vietnam, China, Sri Lanka, India and Cambodia. There are apprehensions that our readymade garment business may slip away to these countries if our port predicament is not improved.
It has been over the last decade that the Chittagong port situation has come to this point. The volume of goods has increased, but infrastructure has not. In 2007-08 a total of 10 lakh (1 million) containers were unloaded. In 2016-17 this more than doubled to 24 lakh 19 thousand (2 million 419 thousand). Yet no new jetties for sea vessels were constructed since 2007. The present government has been in power for over eight years, but not a single jetty has been constructed in this time.
A jetty and a container yard must be constructed immediately. Necessary equipment must be procured and the overall efficiency of the port must be stepped up.