Even though it is possible to operate the under-construction Patenga Container Terminal with local companies, the shipping ministry has primarily selected two foreign companies for the task.
If a foreign company operates the terminal despite the fact that the country has skilled terminal operators and workers, a significant amount of local currency will go out of the country, port officials and domestic terminal operators have said.
The local firms will also be deprived owing to this decision, they added.
The Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) is constructing the Patenga Container Terminal with its own fund at a cost of Tk2,075 crore. The CPA is also procuring necessary equipment meant for operating the terminal – and it has made 60 percent progress so far – at its own expense.
However, recently the shipping ministry primarily finalised two global port operators – the Saudi-based Red Sea Gateway Terminal and the Dubai-based DP World – to operate the terminal. Their details have been sent to the Prime Minister's Office.
The ministry will sign two separate deals with the companies if it enters into an agreement with them as per government-to-government policy under the Public Private Partnership system.
Mohammed Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury, secretary of the shipping ministry, told The Business Standard, "Red Sea Gateway Terminal and DP World have expressed their interest in operating the Patenga Container Terminal. We have intimated the matter to the Prime Minister's Office."
However, he did not comment on why foreign companies were being hired despite skilled domestic operators being available in the country.
The country's main seaport at Chattogram has been handling 3 million TEUs (20-foot equipment units) of containers for the last two years. Saif Powertec, a local leading terminal operator, handles 1.6 million TEUs of containers each year.
Meanwhile, Awami League leaders in Chattogram said some foreign companies have long been eyeing the port.
Earlier, ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, the late president of Chattogram city unit of the Awami League who also served as mayor of the city, had been agitating since 1996 over the issue of handing over control of Chattogram port to an American company and private operators. As a result of that movement, the port was not handed over to foreign companies.
Khorshed Alam Sujan, vice-president of Chattogram city Awami League, said earlier the process of a handing over of management of Chittagong port to SSK, an American company, had been thwarted under the leadership of Mohiuddin Chowdhury. There are yet activities on the part of foreign powers. There have been attempts to hand over the management of the port to foreigners for a long time.
"Our country has a skilled workforce and efficient companies. So we should not give money to foreign companies to operate the terminal," he said.
However, Chittagong City Corporation Mayor AJM Nasir Uddin said the prime minister would appoint operators for the Patenga Container Terminal, considering the people's interests. "We all have confidence in her. We will accept whatever decision she takes in this regard."
While talking to The Business Standard, Ruhul Amin, managing director of Saif Powertec, a terminal operator at Chattogram port, demanded that a competent local operator run the Patenga Container Terminal once its construction is completed. As the terminal is being built with the country's own resources, there is no reason to go for foreign operators particularly since the country has skilled local operators.
Saif Powertec has about 4,000 skilled workers engaged in operating the New-Mooring Container Terminal (NCT) and Chittagong Container Terminal (CCT), the two terminals of Chattogram seaport.
According to Chattogram port sources, the CPA has taken up a project to build the Patenga Container Terminal to increase the capacity of berthing and cargo and container handling.
The then Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan inaugurated construction of the terminal on September 8, 2017.
The 600-metre-long container terminal is being constructed on 26 acres of land located between Chattogram Dry Dock and the Boat Club in Patenga. The project cost was initially Tk1,868 crore, which later increased by Tk207 crore to Tk2,075 crore.
Once the new terminal is completed, it will be able to handle about 4.50 lakh TEUs of containers per year.
The CPA expects that the construction of the terminal will be completed by December 2021.