Cement industry leaders are set to put forth their demand to scrap the government policy requiring transporting goods by their lightering vessels. The policy, they allege, has cemented the Water Transport Cell's (WTC) arbitrary control of lightering ship movement and has been hurting their business for years.
Formulated in 2013, the Goods Transport Policy requires cement factories to transport 50% of their imported raw materials using the government's Water Transport Cell (WTC) managed ships, even if they have their own ships.
The Bangladesh Cement Manufacturers Association (BCMA) leaders have also called on the government's competition commission to intervene and rein in the absolute authority of WTC in setting transport fares for goods.
In an effort to ease the contention stemming from WTC's dominance in the lightering vessel business, the Department of Shipping is scheduled to meet with the WTC, BCMA, and the Bangladesh Cargo Vessel Owners' Association (BCVOA), on 17 October.
According to BCMA sources, business owners will demand in the meeting that the 2013 Goods Transport Policy be scrapped. Among other demands, the cement industry leaders are expected to seek the freedom of operating vessels without the WTC at the helm of fixing schedules, a reduced fare for the transport of goods from the outer anchorage of Chattogram port to other places in the country, no arbitrary fining of lightering vessels without discussion with business owners, and the timely providing of ships when a mother vessel reaches outer anchorage.
On 11 October, the Business Standard ran a report with the heading 'Bulk importers at mercy of lighter vessel cartel', which detailed the overall picture of goods' transport on maritime routes.
Md Shahidullah, the first vice president of BCMA told TBS, "Our main demand in the 17 October meeting is the scrapping of the 2013 Goods Transport Policy, because it forces us to transport 50% of our raw material imports using WTC operated vessels. We will not accept this at all."
He also said they will seek the withdrawal of a recently issued naval notification, which mandated the operation of vessels following a WTC schedule.
"We will also call for revised transport fares from the outer anchorage of Chattogram port to Dhaka regional ports and other parts of the country to be proportional," he added.
The transport fare from the outer anchorage of Chattogram port to Dhaka region ports (Dhaka, Narayanganj, Meghna, Muktarpool, Kachpur, Aliganj, Nitaiganj) has been slashed Tk133 and revised down to Tk450 per ton, while fares to other routes of the country were only cut between Tk41 per ton to Tk80 per ton, said Shahidullah.
"Only people with links to the cell are benefiting, not any ship owners or other stakeholders in the sector," he claimed, seeking intervention of the government's Bangladesh Competition Commission.
WTC was formed in 2003 to oversee the operation of privately owned lightering vessels in a systematic way. Currently, some 2,500 ships transport goods from the outer anchorage of Chattogram port on 34 routes across the country, with the WTC controlling the operation of 1300 private ships, while some 400 vessels are managed by cement industry owners, and the rest are small scale independent operators.
On 23 August, the Department of Shipping issued an emergency naval notification, instructing industries to follow the 2013 goods transport policy. The circular, signed by Commodore AZM Jalal Uddin, director general of the Department of Shipping, states that all lightering ships involved in transporting goods in Chattogram port, and all types of jetties on both sides of the port and mother vessels, should load and unload goods following the Water Transport Cell's schedule, in compliance with the Goods Transport Policy 2013.
Violation of the directives, would prompt appropriate legal measures against vessel owner, captain and crew, the notification added.
In the aftermath of the shipping department-issued notification, complications arose with mixed and differing reactions reported from the WTC, cement manufacturers, and industry leaders.
Even an incident of sailors of ships being beaten was reported. Allegedly the beating incident was perpetrated on behalf of the WTC to establish their control and authority over the transportation of goods and vessels.