The blockage of the Suez Canal caused by a massive container vessel has stoked concerns in Bangladeshi businesses, especially apparel exporters, as the crucial artery for global shipping remains closed for the fifth day in a row.
Ships carrying a large number of Bangladeshi goods are now waiting to transit the shortest maritime route for goods travelling from Asia to Europe.
Around 45,000-50,000 TEUs (twenty feet equivalent units) of containers, which are exported from Bangladesh's Chattogram to Europe each month, cross through the canal via hub ports like that of Colombo, Singapore, and Port Klang of Malaysia.
RMG exporters now apprehend prolonged delays in shipments to buyers.
The delay will add to the supply chain disruption for both exports and imports, inflicting more losses on businesses, said the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
Many shipping lines have slowed down taking bookings from Europe, which might lead to a raw material crisis in Bangladesh industries, said Ahsanul Haque Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association (BSAA).
The canal, a vital route of Asia and Europe, blocked by a 224,000-tonne container since Tuesday, is reportedly holding up an estimate of $9.6bn worth of goods each day.
As of Sunday, more than 320 ships are waiting to travel through the waterway, reported the UK-based The Independent. The international media also reported that it might take around 10 days to clear the canal.
When contacted, AM Chowdhury Selim, vice-president of the BGMEA, told The Business Standard, "Huge exported goods from Bangladesh have been stuck on the vessels. As Europe is one of the major destinations for Bangladeshi apparel products, the canal blockage will cause great losses to Bangladesh."
"Many shipments will not reach on time, affecting lead time of the export cargo and buyers will demand discounts, causing a loss for us. If the situation is prolonged, our exports and imports will be impacted," he added.
But, he could not give any amount of Bangladesh goods waiting at either end of the canal. He said there is no confusion that Bangladesh's export-import consignments have been stuck here.
Seeking anonymity, an official of Maersk Bangladesh Limited, a leading shipping line company, "We are not sure now which goods have got stuck in the maritime traffic jam."
The 120-mile canal between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean separates Africa from the Middle East and Asia and is also the shortest route between Asia and Europe.
However, shippers said if the crisis prolongs, they will use alternative routes, but which will be time-consuming and cause a hike in freight costs as well.
Ajmir Hossain Chowdhury, director at the BSAA and also head of Operation and Logistics at the MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company Bangladesh Ltd, told The Business Standard, "Around 60% of Bangladesh's RMG cargoes go to Europe using the canal. Many Bangladesh cargoes are waiting to cross the canal."
A vessel takes 18-20 days to reach Europe from Colombo, 20-23 days from Singapore and around 27 days from Port Klang.
Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industries President Mahbubul Alam said, "The crisis is yet to hit Bangladesh hard. If the crisis prolongs, Bangladeshi traders will have to bear the brunt along with others who use the route.