A shortage of reefer containers, for the markets of Europe and the United States in particular, has added to the concerns of frozen food exporters, who are already troubled with rising freight charges.
Delay in clearing import load containers by the Chattogram port authority, booking time delay, conversion of reefer containers for RMG exports are major reasons behind the apparent shortage, according to frozen food exporters.
Besides, many of the available reefer containers, used for frozen goods' export, are regionally restricted, and therefore cannot be used for exports to countries in Europe and to the United States.
According to a port authority source, the number of 20-feet and 40-feet reefer containers, stationed at three port yards, are respectively 21 and 1101, as of 4 November, which means 2223 TEUs of the port capacity of 2620 TEUs are occupied.
Ashraf Hossain Masud, owner of Masud Fish Processing and Ice Complex Ltd, said that the charges of reefer containers have been soaring for the last two years and containers are unavailable when sought.
"The tariff used to be around $2700 to $3000 dollars but they have skyrocketed to $12,000 to $13,000 dollars at present," Masud, who exports white fish to Europe, told The Business Standard.
"We have to wait for 7-15 days for a container after the booking," he added.
However, the Frozen Food Export Association accused shipping organisations of creating a false crisis of reefer containers because of their desire for extra benefits.
Ahead of the upcoming Christmas in December, when there is a huge demand for shrimps in Europe and America, exporters are worried about delayed shipment and added costs, leading to losses.
Other than shrimps, Bangladesh also exports lobsters, sea fish, crabs, beef tripe, potatoes, vegetables and medicines in the markets of Europe and the USA.
"There is a huge demand for dry containers," said M Kazi Belayet, Managing Director of Bangladesh Frozen Food Export Association.
"Because of unavailability of reefer containers, 100 shipments have been delayed,'' Belayet said, adding that the "Commerce and Shipping Ministry needs to address this issue immediately before it's too late.'
According to shipping agents most of the reefer containers lying at the Chattogram port yards are from countries such as China, Thailand and Malaysia.
Muntasir Rubayat, Director of Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association, said that because of high demand, a few reefer containers were converted to non-operating reefers, stripped of their refrigeration unit, which is 2% of total reefer containers.
According to Bangladesh Customs, importers must take delivery of their consignment within 30 days from the day goods are unloaded from a ship to the port jetty, failing which they will be served with notices by the customs authorities.
If an importer does not take delivery within 15 days of the notification, the goods are auctioned off. Chattogram Port Authority has sent letters to all the companies concerned for clearing their goods within time.
"After 45 days the containers are going to be auctioned off," said Omar Faruk, Secretary of Chattogram Port Authority, adding that some importers unload their goods after the auctioning process is initiated.