Already short on capacity compared to the burgeoning trade by sea, Chattogram port struggles with thousands of containers stacked at its yards, thanks to the Eid holidays and a 14-day virus-induced countrywide lockdown.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 42,674 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of all types of containers lying at the port yards, which was around 87% of the port's total capacity of storing 49,018 TEUs.
The port has to keep 15% of its total capacity free for smooth operations.
After Eid-ul-Azha, Chattogram port's import delivery plummeted to only 128 TEUs while the daily delivery was 5,000 TEUs on average. The nationwide virus-related curbs later added to the gridlock as importers did not release their consignments since the factories had been shuttered.
At the same time, 17 Inland Container Depots (ICDs) that are now in operation also face a similar predicament, plus a vessel crisis that has been counting for the last couple of months.
All the imported containers were shifted to the 17 off-docks in Chattogram in May as container congestion loomed large at Chattogram port. The off-docks load the export cargoes, and now deliver 38 types of imports, including food items.
As of Wednesday, 75% of the total capacity of the ICDs was occupied, while 30% occupancy of the off-docks usually remains free.
As stated by Nurul Qayyum Khan, president of the Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (Bicda), "Container delivery did not return to normal after Eid. If the situation continues, container congestion at Chattogram port and the ICDs will intensify further in the next couple of days."
According to Bicda sources, exports amounting to 11,700 TEUs are now waiting at the ICDs while the volume hovers around 3,000 TEUs in normal times.
A recurring issue
Businessmen have said Chattogram port experiences container congestion on almost every Eid and during any natural disaster because the port's capacity has not improved in the last 14 years. With the growing trade through sea routes every year, several measures were taken on an ad hoc basis from time to time to tackle the container gridlock.
Exporters say they fail to deliver products to foreign markets on time thanks to shipping issues, and have been falling behind competitors from neighbouring Myanmar, India and China.
Before the country's emergence as an independent state, Chattogram port had 12 jetties. The Chattogram Container Terminal (CCT) was built in 1986. In 2007, the New Mooring Container Terminal (NCT) was built at the port, raising the number of jetties to 18.
In the fourteen years from 2007 to 2021, container handling has surged to 2 million TEUs.
In a 30-year master plan on Chattogram port, the German-based HPC Hamburg Port Consulting (GmbH) in 2015 said Chattogram port would be able to tackle the growing container pressure until 2017 if the NCT could be equipped fully.
The GmbH recommended construction of three terminals before 2022 as the master plan forecast that Chattogram port would handle 2.7 million TEUs by 2020, 4.4 million TEUs by 2025 and 5.1 million TEUs by 2030.
However, Chattogram port attained the 3 million TEUs container handling mark in 2019.
Only Patenga Container Terminal project on
Only the Patenga Container Terminal project is going on currently, although a number of projects have been undertaken to ramp up the capacity of the port.
The Chattogram Port Authority took up the Laldia Container Terminal project with a deadline for the project to be completed in 2020. But the authorities eventually backtracked on the construction.
The first phase of the Bay Terminal project was taken up with a 2021 deadline. But the project is yet to start as the feasibility study is underway now.
The Patenga Container Terminal project was to be completed in 2019. With the deadline extended thrice, the port authority now says the work will be completed in 2022.
Contacted by TBS, Omor Faruk, secretary of the Chattogram Port Authority, said, "Container delivery has been getting normalised despite a slowdown in the Eid holidays."
He said vessels now have to wait 2.5 days for berthing at the port jetty.