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Unloading ‘crippled’ in Ctg port

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Importers blame artificial shortages of lighter vessels 
SHAMSUDDIN ILLIUS
Publication Date: 3 January, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Media: The Independent

Shortage of lighter vessels is seriously hampering the unloading of goods from mother vessels at the outer anchorage of the Chittagong Port. However, a section of shipping sources has dubbed the crisis as ‘artificial’. Importers are daily demanding 40–55 lighter vessels to unload goods from mother vessels, but the Water Transport Cell (WTC) is unable to give, on average, more than 14 vessels a day.

The dearth of lighter ships to unload goods from mother vessels waiting at the outer anchorage of the country’s premier port has now become acute.

Earlier, the number of big ships waiting at the anchorage used to be 50–60, but now their number has risen to 80, which went up to 130 last month.

Importers have to count a demurrage of USD 10,000–14,000 each day if a mother vessel remains at the outer anchorage. The demurrage amount depends on the size of the waiting ship and the nature of the imported goods.

“Earlier, it used to take about 25 days to unload goods from a mother vessel at the outer anchorage, but now it takes over two months. The shortage of lighter vessels is increasing the average waiting time of mother vessels, thus increasing the demurrage cost incurred by businessmen,” said Abul Bashar Chowdury, managing director of the BSM Group.

The WTC alleged that the shortage of lighter craft has been artificially created. It says some leading companies tend to use the small vessels as floating warehouses to keep their goods, finding it cheaper than hiring regular warehouses.

But businessmen blame inadequate jetties and lack of modern cargo-handling facilities for the problem.

The WTC claims that over 300 lighter vessels are currently  anchored at different river ports and factory ‘ghats’ of different companies without unloading the goods they brought from the mother vessels.

According to the WTC, 60 lighter vessels were waiting for over 61 days, 85 such vessels were waiting over 51 days, 55 vessels were waiting for over 41 days, and 45 vessels were waiting for over 31 days to unload the goods they ferried from sea-faring ships.

The commodities that lie stored in lighter vessels anchored in different jetties across the country include fertilisers, wheat and scrap materials, according to the WTC.

WTC sources say it takes lighter vessels a maximum of seven days to unload their cargo, but they are deliberately kept waiting by businessmen who use them as floating warehouses.

Ataul Kabir Talukder Ranju, deputy secretary (operation) of WTC, told The Independent: “All the lighter ships, including 300 private and 1,450 under the WTC, can carry six crore metric tonnes of good every year. The lighter ships of the WTC can carry three crore MT if an importer uses a lighter vessel for about 15 days. But the importers are using the lighter ship for over 45–50 days, thus causing a crisis in the availability of lighter ships.”

The 300 privately-owned lighter vessels are much bigger than those owned by the WTC. Moreover, private companies do not keep their vessels waiting, but make them do three to

four trips a month.  In contrast, businessmen are said to keep the WTC vessels waiting as floating warehouses, thus reducing the number of trips they could make. Businesses find this a less expensive means of storing goods. For keeping a goods-laden lighter vessel waiting, they have to pay a demurrage of Tk. 12–15 per tonne per day for wheat, fertiliser, sugar and other goods. But they would have to pay triple the amount if the goods had been kept in a proper warehouse.

Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) data shows that in 2015, 2.78 core tonnes were unloaded at the Chittagong Port’s outer anchorage. In 2016, it amounted to 3.44 crore tonnes. Till November 2017, 3.52 crore tonnes of goods  were unloaded at the port’s outer anchorage last year.

The WTC said that all the lighter vessels can handle six crore tonnes of goods annually, while the current requirement at the outer anchorage is to unload about 4 crore tonnes.

The WTC laments that it is unable to utilize even 50 per cent of its capacity as the businessmen keep their vessels waiting. If the importers release the vessels within 15 days, there would be no crisis, it maintained.

“After releasing the goods—wheat, coal, stones and more—from mother vessels, the importers take the lighters vessels to different destinations in the country and sell the goods in retail. They do not take the goods to their warehouses. They earn more profits by doing this and do not care about the mother vessels’ congestion at the outer anchorage and the demurrage incurred daily,” said Nurul Haque, co-convener of the WTC.

A report of the WTC, submitted to the CPA, says that many lighter vessels are held up at various jetties including those in Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayangongj, Barisal, and Khulna for over two months. Though the importers’ warehouses are empty, they are not unloading the goods from the lighter vessels. They are keeping the ships waiting while looking for buyers. They unload goods from these vessels only after finding buyers.

“Though the importers make more profits, they do not think about the turnaround time of the mother vessels at the outer anchorage and this leads to the crisis,” the report adds.

A report of the WTC to the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) says importers have 300 lighter vessels, which are used to carry about three crore tonnes of goods every year. By keeping the WTC ships waiting, they increase the frequency of trips by their own ships.

WTC data shows that it has the capacity to carry three crore tons of goods, but carried only 1.59 crore tonnes in 2016, and, till November 2017, it could carry only 1.44 crore tonnes.

The WTC said the City Group alone kept 34 lighter vessels waiting at Rupsi Ghat with raw sugar for the past 56 days, while the T.G. Group had kept 16 vessels with 22,000 MT of wheat waiting at different river jetties for the past 53 days. The Bismillah Group had 22 vessels waiting at different places with 30,000 MT of wheat.

The Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) alone kept 134 vessels with fertilisers waiting for a long time in different jetties due to lack of space in their warehouses.

Contacted, Manwar Sohel, manager (operations) of the Bismillah Group, denied the allegation, saying: “We cannot unload over 50,000 MT from mother vessels. Even if we want, we cannot unload goods from lighter ships in the ‘ghats’ as there is a serial. As the infrastructure at the ‘ghat’ is not developed, the unloading process is slow. There is lack of modern equipment to unload goods quickly. The capacity of the jetties has not been increased with the country’s increasing imports.”

Mazahurul Haque Miron, commercial manager of BCIC, denied the allegation. “Our vessels, which are waiting at different jetties, are in the process of unloading their goods,” he said.

MV Doric Victory, a USAID cargo vessel laden with 22,340 MT of wheat for Rohingyas refugees, is waiting to unload its cargo for about two months owing to the shortage of lighter vessels.

The Department of Food (DoF), which is supposed to receive the cargo, said the ship was unable to berth at the DoF Silo to unload the aid for the Rohingyas as two other private importers were unable to unload their cargo at the outer-anchorage because of a shortage of lighter vessels.

The ship MV Doric Victory with 55,510 MT goods, including 22,340 USAID cargo and 33,170 MT commercial cargo for two private companies, reached Bangladesh on November 9, 2017. After spending 21 days at the Kutubdia point, it berthed at the outer anchorage on November 29.

Shamsuddin Illius
Shamsuddin Illius is a print and online media journalist. He has been working in the field (fulltime) of journalism since 2010. He is very much passionate about journalism since his early age. Currently he is the Bureau Chief-Chittagong at The Business Standard.

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