Chattogram port has finally started accommodating large container vessels with 10 metres draught and 200 metres length, eight years after allowing 9.5-metre-draught and 190-metre-long ships to anchor at its jetty.
Cargo ship Common Atlas, which had been docked at the port's outer anchorage after bringing in Meghna Group's 60,500 tonnes raw sugar import from Brazil on 10 January, became the first large vessel to berth at Jetty 1 of the Chattogram Container Terminal at around 5pm on Sunday. The berthing activity was officially inaugurated on Monday.
The enhanced vessel handling capacity of the country's premier port has paved the way for direct container ship services with various countries, especially the United Kingdom.
Besides, containers of imported goods can now be unloaded from large vessels at the port jetty instead of the outer anchorage, significantly reducing goods unloading and transportation costs as well as turnaround time, said shipping industry insiders.
As a result, commodity prices in the market will come down, they added.
Those related to the shipping sector also said that now an additional 1,000-1,100 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit) of containers can be transported to the port depending on the size of the ship.
And ships with 11 metres draught and 225 metres length will also be able berth at Chittagong port soon if dredging work is done in the Guptabaank area of the River Karnaphuli, they said.
While addressing the inauguration ceremony of the enhanced vessel berthing capacity, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said ensuring the berthing of 10- metre-draught vessel at Chattogram port is a matter of pride for the country.
At the event, the state minister also spoke about the progress of other important port projects.
"The bay terminal was targeted to be operational by 2024. But the work has been interrupted by Corona, the Russia-Ukraine war. The bay terminal is now expected to go into operation by the end of 2025 or the beginning of 2026. Matarbari deep sea port will also be operational in 2026. Patenga container terminal is nearing completion, with 95% work being done. It will be launched soon."
On the occasion, British High Commissioner Robert Chatterton Dickson said that along with Bangladesh the UK also is proud of the Chattogram port enhanced capacity as a skilled team from the British Navy had provided assistance in the project.
He also said that now larger ships carrying more products will be able to berth at the port jetty, which will reduce business cost. Bangladeshi traders will now be able to send products to the UK market at lower costs, he observed, adding that their participation in the competitive market will increase.
If the capacity of the port increases, it may create an opportunity to open a direct route between Chattogram port and the UK, he added.
According to Chittagong port's data, the port achieved 2.28% growth in cargo handling and 3.21% growth in vessel handling in 2022. However, growth in container handling declined to 2.60%.
Chittagong Port Authority Chairman Rear Admiral M Shahjahan said increasing the port's capacity is an ongoing process. To further increase the capacity, all levels of port officials and stakeholders must be committed, he added.
Bangladesh Shipping Agent Association Chairman Syed Mohammad Arif termed equipping Chattogram port to handle large ships as an "epoch-making" decision.
He suggested that alongside container ships, bulk carrier ships should also be preferred for berthing.
Initiatives should be taken to shift LCL and FCL cargo delivery from Chattogram port, he said, adding that construction of new ICDs should be approved on easy terms.
"If these facilities are ensured, the loading and unloading time of goods from ships will come down to 24 hours from 48 hours."
Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Mahbubul Alam stressed building connectivity between Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpa Nagar and Chattogram port.
Without this connectivity by road, sea and rail, the new investment in the industrial city will not reach the desired goal, he said.
He also mentioned that the dredging of the River Karnaphuli should be continued for the sake of keeping Chattogram port operational.
The 200-meter-long cargo ship Common Atlas originally had a draught of 10.8 metres, but 23,650 tonnes out of the of the 60,500 tonnes of imported raw sugar were unloaded at the outer anchorage to reduce the draught to 10 metres before it berthed at the Chattogram port jetty.
However, even if the ship berthed at the jetty of the port, the imported goods shall not be unloaded at the jetty.
"After the inauguration, the ship will again be taken to the outer anchorage. The remaining 36,850 tonnes of goods in the ship will be released in lighter ships there," Mizanur Rahman, deputy general manager of Meghna Group, told TBS.