A mountain of luggage carrying at least 200 tonnes of goods, sent home by Bangladeshi expatriates, has been stuck at the Chattogram airport since mid-October as, according to a top airport official, disputes between the customs and clearing and forwarding agents left the cargo delivery frozen.
Failing to have the luggages released from the Shah Amanat International Airport, the senders are frustrated as they are counting at least Tk1,000 in warehouse charge per consignment.
However, Chattogram Customs House says it has not stopped cargo clearance at the airport.
"Rather, the freight forwarders are not coming to the customs to release the goods," Najiur Rahman, joint commissioner of Chattogram Customs, told The Business Standard.
According to customs officials, the freight forwarders had been bringing in commercial cargoes, but clearing those in household and personal effects category to evade duty. The customs house recently busted several such frauds and got tough in verifying the documents.
According to freight forwarders, the authorities could have singled out the agents responsible for the frauds instead of "suspending the entire cargo clearance".
On conditions of anonymity, a number of clearing and forwarding agents told TBS that they did not submit the bill of entry for the piled up 200 tonnes of goods as the customs "changed their stance abruptly".
The agents claimed they had been releasing the air freights by "mutual agreements with the officials" until recently.
"I am aware of the current cargo clearance suspension due to disputes between the customs and C&F agents. We have already discussed the matter with customs," Wing Commander Taslim Ahmed, director of Shah Amanat International Airport, told The Business Standard.
"I will discuss it again on Thursday as the issue needs to be solved soon," he added.
This is not the first-time air cargo clearance at the airport got hampered. Similar disputes in 2016 and 2019 put air freight releases in Chattogram on a hold.
Built in 2000, the warehouses have a cargo capacity of 200 tonnes.
Expatriates send goods through cargo flights and C&F agents get delivery of the items on behalf of the senders.
Mohammad Kawser, an expatriate who has been living in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, sent home over 60kg of household goods, including cosmetics, toiletries, chocolates and blankets, that reached the Chattogram airport on 12 September. Later, he came to the country on 5 October with a month's leave.
Since then two months have passed, but he neither got the delivery from the cargo warehouse, nor could he return to his workplace. To his misfortune, his visa was cancelled by his employer - a restaurant owner in Saudi Arabia.
"My goods worth Tk2 lakh have been stuck at the airport without any valid reason. I used to get a salary of Tk88,000 per month as a restaurant manager in Saudi Arabia but I have now lost the job," Kawser said.
"Who will take responsibility for this loss? I demand those responsible be punished," he noted.
Shaukat Ali, an expatriate from Oman, sent various gifts, including blankets, dates, clothes to Chattogram Airport in the name of his relative Rashedul Amin.
Since 15 October, the goods have remained stuck as Chattogram Customs House has stopped cargo clearance.
Rashedul Amin told TBS, "when I contacted the C&F agent at the airport to redeem the goods, they told me that the customs is not releasing the products."
"I am in doubt whether I can have the products released," he said.
Another victim Nurul Amin said, "My brother Ansar Ali sent 100 kg of goods from Oman to Chattogram airport one month ago. The C&F agent could not give information about when the products will be released."
Currently, air cargo transport from the Middle East to the port city are suspended. Bangladesh Biman, Oman Air, SalamAir, Air Arabia, flydubai and other airlines do not have any products coming from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.
Emirates Airline said it did not bring in any air freight to Chattogram's Shah Amanat International Airport after 13 October.