Business at the Chattogram port has returned to normal, with its handling of over 8,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers daily since last week and delivering around 4,000 to 5,000 TEUs every day.
After the country went into a shutdown on March 25, container deliveries went down to around 1,000 TEUs per day from the usual 4,000-4,500 TEUs.
These containers occupied almost all of the port yard, causing delays in berthing and raising the turnaround time of container vessels at the premier port. Over 36 vessels had to wait for almost 14 days – double the usual waiting time – at the outer anchorage for berthing, leading to the highest congestion the port has ever seen.
However, thanks to some judicious steps taken by the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), business has revived after almost a month and a half of inactivity.
A major decision taken by the CPA was the waiving of Tk188 crore in storage rent for importers to encourage them to receive goods.
The port authority also resorted to sending letters to individual importers, repeatedly requesting them to take delivery of their goods.
Transferring around 17,000 TEUs of containers to private Inland Container Depots (ICDs) also helped reduce congestion at the port.
"Activities at the port have returned to normal as import container deliveries have reached their peak," said Md Omar Faruk, secretary and spokesman of the CPA.
"Around 4,000-5,000 TEUs of containers are being delivered every day since last week after the port waived storage rent, which has been extended till May 16. This has encouraged importers in taking delivery of their goods."
Faruk added that though on Thursday there were around 45,625 TEUs of containers lying at the port yard against its capacity of 49,018 TEUs, importers are yet being requested to take delivery of their goods as soon as possible.
"Around 7,000 workers are also working round the clock to keep trade alive at the country's premier port," he said.
For their part, businessmen have blamed what they call imprudent decisions by the National Board of Revenue (NBR) – keeping the port kept open 24/7, customs taxing only a limited number of goods, and allowing transfers of only six types of goods to ICDs – as the main reasons behind the congestion at the port.
The NBR later permitted a transfer of all goods to ICDs and customs are now taxing all goods.
"From the very beginning of the shutdown, we demanded that customs tax all goods and wanted an exemption from storage charges," Mahbabul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told The Business Standard.
"Delays from customs led to the congestion. However, now everything is returning to normal," he added.
Imports and exports through the Chattogram port declined in March by over 12 percent and 26 percent, respectively. In April, imports fell 34 percent and exports declined by 48 percent through the premier port.
The highest number of imported containers at the Chattogram port are loaded with readymade garment (RMG) raw materials, while the second highest have industrial raw materials, as well as fruits, ginger, garlic, onions, sea fish and Ramadan essentials, according to the port authority.
As apparel factories have reopened, factory owners have begun taking delivery of their goods. Ramadan essentials have also been collected from the port.
Chattogram port is Bangladesh's premier port, handling around 92 percent of the country's international trade.