A record number of containers are now stockpiled at the Chattogram port yard – due to limited delivery of imported goods amid the nationwide general holiday to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) said around 92 percent of the container storage capacity of the country's premier port was full on Wednesday.
Every day around 3,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) are added to the stockpile at the port yard. If the slow delivery of the imported goods continues this way, the capacity of container storage will be exceeded this week, said CPA officials.
Businessmen who use the port to import goods fear that the container congestion at the port will hamper business. It will increase the cost of business and the prices of goods will surge.
According to the CPA, 44,926 TEUs were at the port yard on Wednesday while the port's total capacity is 49,018 TEUs. From March 26 to April 1, every day, on average, only 1,252TEUs are delivered.
Usually, the port delivers 4,000-4,200 TEUs per day.
"This is the highest number of containers lying at the port yard, compared to its capacity, in the last five years. We are running out of our storage capacity very quickly. We have made additional arrangements at our overflow container yard, which is adjacent to the port and can accommodate 6,000-7,000 TEUs," said Md Omar Faruk, secretary of the CPA.
"If the container storage exceeds its capacity it will hamper the operational activities of the port and prolong the berthing of vessels. It will increase congestion at the outer anchorage as well," he added.
Though loading and unloading goods remains normal at the port's outer anchorage and jetties, the importers cannot transport the deliveries because of a lack of carrier vehicles.
Port sources said around 5,000 trucks, covered vans and lorries usually enter the port for deliveries and shipments every day. However, the number of vehicles has reduced to 800-1,000 as the drivers are not willing to drive in fear of the coronavirus outbreak.
The government declared a countrywide general holiday to curb the spread of coronavirus from March 26 to April 4. The duration of the holiday was later extended until April 11.
The National Board of Revenue (NBR) decided to open customs activities for limited taxation of goods like essential commodities, emergency medicines and service-related materials during the general holiday. However, on March 30, the NBR gave permission for deliveries of industrial raw materials.
"We hope that the delivery of goods will increase after the start of taxation of industrial raw materials as per the new order," said Md Omar Faruk.
Md Fakrul Alam, commissioner of Chattogram Customs House (CCH), told The Business Standard, "We are increasing our workforce as per the NBR order to release industrial raw materials along with emergency goods."
However, the time required for vessels to unload and reload containers, also known as average turnaround time, will increase due to the congestion at the port yard.
Businessmen have to pay between Tk8.5 lakh to Tk12.7 lakh, per day, to the port authorities as demurrage for a vessel's overstaying at the port. Moreover, for overstaying containers the businessmen have to pay the charges of port and shipping agents. They cover the extra costs by demanding higher prices for their commodities – with consumers eventually suffering the consequences.
AM Chowdhury Selim, vice president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said, "We need vehicles to receive deliveries, but no vehicles and drivers are available now. After receiving the deliveries we have to keep the goods at our warehouses, but our factories are already closed."
"Foreign buyers have cancelled many orders because of the worldwide pandemic, so many factory owners are in a dilemma as to whether they should receive deliveries or not," he added.
Mahabubul Alam, president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "We requested the government to allow for the release of all types of goods to keep supply steady during Ramadan. To transport goods and keep the supply chain uninterrupted it is necessary to ensure vehicles are available. If the businessmen can receive deliveries, the port will not face such congestion."