Wheat ‘vanishes’ from port

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Grains unloaded illegally at Ctg outer anchorage without insurance


Publication Date: 5 January, 2018 00:00 00 AM 
Media: The Independent
Original Link: Wheat ‘vanishes’ from port 

E-paper Link: www.eindependentbd.com 

A total of 3,353 metric tonnes (MT) of wheat, worth Tk. 7.04 crore and imported from Russia by the Directorate of Food (DoF), has allegedly “vanished” from the outer anchorage of the Chittagong Port.

The matter was discovered when the cargo was sent to the Narayanganj silo after being unloaded from the mother vessels. The wheat was illegally unloaded at the outer anchorage without any insurance coverage, even though insurance is mandatory for transporting goods. On October last year, the DoF imported 1,55,278 MT of wheat by three vessels—MV River Globe Globe (Customs procedure started for unloading goods October 10, 2017 in Chittagong), MV Spar Virgo (Customs procedure started for unloading goods October 25, 2017 in Chittagong and still unloading goods from the ship at Mongla port), and MV Dubai Knight (Customs procedure started for unloading goods October 25, 2017 in Chittagong).

Read more: Food official suspended for import irregularities 

Of the total quantity, 61,536 MT was unloaded at the outer anchorage of the Chittagong Port and sent to the Naryanagaj silo by lighter ships in November 2017. But the Narayanganj Silo received only 58,182.930 MT, while the rest 3,353 MT is believed to be missing.

As per the rules and memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with the exporters, the wheat was supposed to be unloaded at the DoF silo jetty in the Chittagong Port. But breaching the rule, the district controller of food (DCF), Chittagong, unloaded the wheat at the outer anchorage without any pre-declared schedule and sent it to Narayanganj.

Contacted, Chitta Ranjan Bepari, director (movement, storage and silo division) of the DoF, told The Independent: “There were irregularities in unloading the wheat. They did not insure the consignment as per rules and there was a mismatch of 3,353 MT of wheat.”

DoF director general Md Badrul Hasan could not be contacted.

Usually, the Dhaka office of the DoF announces a pre-schedule to transport DoF goods from one silo or depot to another. But no pre-schedule was declared in this case.

Zahirul Islam, the DCF of Chittagong, said he had unloaded the wheat at the outer anchorage on the basis of a telephonic order.

But the DoF issued a show-cause notice to the DCF on November 27 last year, saying no telephonic order had been issued.

The show-cause letter, signed by Chitta Ranjan Bepari, said: “For transporting wheat from one silo to another in the country, we centrally issue a pre-schedule for transportation. We never give any verbal order or by telephone. There is no emergency situation to unload the wheat at the outer anchorage or to give any order over telephone.”

In the letter to the DCF, Bepari said: “It was necessary to take permission to transport the wheat from the outer anchorage to Narayanganj. By mentioning a telephonic order, you are giving false information.”

Bepari also pointed out that in the MoU signed between the DCF, on behalf of the DoF, and the shipping line, it was mandatory to insure the grain. As a sender transporting wheat from Chittagong to Narayanganj, it was the DCF’s duty to insure the wheat, he said.

Bepari also alleged that the DCF has failed to provide proper documents to back his decision to send the wheat to Narayanganj by lighter ships. In this case, the money for the insurance of the 61,536 MT had not been paid properly, he maintained.

Zahirul Islam admitted to The Independent that he had made a mistake in not getting an insurance cover. “It was a mistake to send the wheat without insurance. After committing the mistake, we’re now ensuring insurance for every consignment. The mismatch of the wheat was also a misunderstanding. I had proposed to carry 61,536 MT, but the lighter ships carried 58, 182 MT,” he said.

He, however, said the matter has been resolved. “The Shipping Line Company has paid Tk. 65 lakh to the DoF for the insurance of the three vessels,” he added.

After the incident came to light, the DCF is now trying to smother the issue by raising an altogether different point. He is claiming that the amount of wheat that was supposed to have arrived by the three ships did not arrive. The shortfall is being given out as 1,600 MT.

The Independent found that according to Chittagong Custom House documents, the DCF had submitted three bills of entries from MV Spar Virgo for 30,612 MT of wheat supplied by Agro Crops International Pte Ltd of Singapore, from MV River Globe for 31,045 MT supplied by Aston FF1 SA, and from MV Dubai Knight for 31,500 MT supplied by Aston FF1 SA.

However, DoF Chittagong sources said they unloaded only 30,029 MT of wheat at the outer anchorage from MV Spar Virgo. They also showed a shortage of 592 MT from MV River Globe and a shortage of 749 MT from MV Dubai Knight.

Owner of Seven Seas Shipping Lines, Md Ali Akbar, who is the local shipping agent of the three vessels, told The Independent, “Sometimes there are some shortages found in cargo quantity but the claim of DoF on shortages goes beyond all possible limits and cannot be true. Bulk carriers are rarely found with any shortage.”

Contacted, Manwar Sohel, Manager Operation of Bismillah Group, one of the largest bulk carrier wheat importers of the country told The Independent, “As per the rules of the customs, there is no chance to show shortage of even one kg of wheat. However, up to one percent shortage for handling loss is acceptable internationally, which only rarely happens. In the case of government imports, there is no chance for any shortage at the carrier,” added Sohel.

The DoF said they have sent claim letters to the exporters. But it is alleged that senior DoF officials have been ‘managed’ to water down the issue.

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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