Lighterage vessel "Kheyatori" left Chattogram for Dhaka on March 25 with 1,800 tonnes of pulses. It arrived at Kanchpur Landing Station the next day. Since then, the vessel has been waiting for permission to unload goods.
Like this, at least 800 lighterage ships with more than 10 lakh tonnes of food items remain stranded at 56 docks across Bangladesh.
Protests from locals coupled with a shortage of workers at the docks have kept unloading of goods from the vessels halted.
The Water Transport Cell said the ships are carrying more than 4 lakh tonnes of daily essentials including lentils, dates, sugar, oil and wheat, which see an increased demand in Ramadan.
Prices of the Ramadan-centric consumer goods have already surged.
Businessmen feared kitchen markets will heat up further if the imported goods do not reach markets in time.
Executive Director of the Water Transport Cell Mahbub Rashid Khan said the worker shortage at the virus fear-infused docks almost collapsed offloading.
Nearly 3,000 lighterage vessels carry goods from mother vessels docked to the Chittagong Port.
Most of the lighterage vessel workers went home after the general holidays were announced on March 26, said sources at the Bangladesh Lighterage Workers Union.
In the meantime, loading-unloading from the mother vessels at the Chittagong Port gets in trouble as the lighterage ships got stranded at docks across the country. This may prompt ship congestion at the outer anchorage of the port.
Bangladesh Lighterage Workers Union President Mohammad Isa said in many place locals physically assaulted the vessel workers and crews over offloading.
"The vessel masters and crews now experience a shortage of food on board as they are being barred from getting off the ships," he added.
After departing Chattogram on April 5 for Dhaka, "MV Shovon" has been stranded at the Kanchpur Landing Station like "Kheyatori".
"We do not know when we will be allowed to unload. All 15 of us on board are in fear of coronavirus infection as Dhaka has the highest virus cases," The shipmaster Mohammad Ibrahim told over the phone.
Bangladesh does nearly 92 percent import and export through the Chittagong Port. Nearly 74 percent of the imported goods are offloaded at the outer dock of the port and then smaller vessels transport the goods to 16 docks at Chattogram and 56 docks at the other regions of the country.
Narayanganj is one of the widely used offloading docks which suffered a blow as the virus races around the industrial city.
Masters of multiple vessels waiting for offloading in Narayanganj said they neither can unload, nor can go to local markets to buy essentials.
"We do not know when we would get back to Chattogram. We are passing a terrible time amid infection fear here," they said.
Supply chain must be restored
Prices of most consumer goods have surged in Chattogram's Khatunganj Market – the largest wholesale market in Bangladesh.
"Transportation crisis has slashed 80 percent supplies to the wholesale market," said Solaiman Badsha, former president of the Chaktai Khatunganj Traders Welfare Association.
The Chittagong Chamber of Commerce & Industry also says movement restrictions have impeded the supply of imported goods to retail markets. The shutdown largely contributes to the price hike and the virus fallout may heat up the market further.
President of the chamber Mahbubul Alam said, "We must restore the supply chain at any cost."