The container congestion problem at Chittagong Port has not been solved because of two recent decisions by the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
Firstly, on April 18, the NBR gave a directive to transfer only six types of product containers stuck in the port to the Inland Container Depots (ICD). The directive is to remain effective until June 30.
However, the Chattogram Port Authority (CPU) said the six types of product containers are only five percent or 2,500 containers of the total, which will not help reduce congestion in the port.
Secondly, the NRB decided to send the containers – which are usually sent to the Kamalapur ICD in Dhaka by rail – to the Summit Alliance Port Ltd in Munshiganj via the waterways.
The Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) said there are only 273 Kamalapur ICD bound containers at the port. Since only Kamalapur-bound containers can be sent to the Summit Alliance Port, the port authority cannot send other containers, thereby intensifying the congestion.
According to the Chittagong Port Authorities, until 8 am on April 19, there were 49,308 containers in the port yard whereas the capacity is for 49,016 containers. Fewer containers are being released from the port because of the lockdown, and this is contributing to the congestion. Furthermore, almost 30 container-laden ships are still waiting in the outer anchorage to be unloaded.
The six types of products to be transferred to the private ICDs include seeds, fibre, products listed by the drug administration, imported yarn for the production sectors, tyre cord, and insecticides.
Chittagong Port secretary Omor Faruk said transferring only five percent of the containers will hardly be effective in reducing congestion in the port.
"We have written to the shipping ministry recommending transfer of all types of products to ICDs. If the NBR approves our proposal the congestion situation will be under control," he said.
The port authorities said since the beginning of the crisis caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, there has been no expected outcome due to some imprudent decisions by the NBR, even though the port is active for 24 hours a day.
Since the lockdown imposed on March 26, normal product deliver was not possible because the customs department is not working at full swing. During this time, the NBR decided to release food items and emergency medicines only.
As the previous decision was ineffective, the NBR on March 30 issued a revised directive mentioning that taxation will go on, and industrial raw material was added to the list. At present, the NBR has stopped releasing all types of commercial products.
Seeking anonymity, a port officer said customs personnel have failed to realise the current situation at the port, as a result, they have wasted time with different decisions, resulting in container congestion getting out of control.
NBR Member (customs policy and ICT) Syed Golam Kibria said the decision to release products has been taken considering the overall situation of the country.
"Businessmen are concerned with their own interests, but we have to consider what is best for everyone. After the situation becomes normal and if the government agrees, approval will be given for releasing all types of products," he said.
Jainul Abedin, the law affairs secretary of the Chittagong Customs C and F Agents Association, said, "Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, factories are closed and importers are not able to release products. Almost everything including port activity, transportation, garment industries, EPZs, etc are closed at present. I wonder where they will keep their products after release."
Meanwhile, the CPA has revoked its decision to keep imported containers in the port yard free of cost, which will be effective from April 21. The fee was exempted for products imported between March 27 to April 20 due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The vice chairman of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association, Shafiqul Alam Jewel, said, "The exemption of store rent has backfired because importers have used the yard as a godown instead of releasing their goods. There are around 12,000 TUEs containers filled with raw material for the garments industry. It will ease congestion if they remove their products."
MDM Mohiuddin, chief executive officer of Clifton Group, said, "The products are not being delivered because the factories are closed. The lack of workers and transportation is another reason. I do not think the container congestion will be solved until the Covid-19 situation becomes normal again."
Regarding the issue, Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association director Khairul Alam Sujon said, "Transferring containers to ICDs will cost an extra Tk6,000-7,000 per container, which will affect retail price. The congestion problem will not be solved until the decision to release only six types of products is changed."
The general secretary of the Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA), Ruhul Amin, said the claim of higher cost was illogical. He also said it was possible to solve the congestion problem by transferring only six types of products.
"The 19 private ICDs have the capacity to hold 65,000 TUEs in total. They still have room to store 18,000 TUEs," he added.