Huge amounts of imported perishable goods, including onions, garlic, ginger, grapes, apples, oranges, fish, medicine, chemicals and clothes, are being stockpiled at Chattogram port yard, leading to a congestion of refrigerated containers at the country's main port.
On Sunday, 2,729 TEUs (Twenty-foot equivalent units) refrigerated containers and containers loaded with perishable goods were lying at the port yard, which is almost double the CPA storage capacity.
The CPA is struggling to maintain an uninterrupted supply of electricity to those containers. As the importers are delaying in taking delivery of their goods, the CPA from Sunday imposed a four-times higher charge for keeping goods in refrigerated containers.
Usually, holding a 20-foot loaded container is free for the first four days. After that, port users have to pay $6 for every 20-foot container, and $12 for every 40-foot container for each day. For the refrigerated containers, electricity charges are added with the storage rent.
"It will be four-time higher from Sunday to discourage importers from keeping their containers at the port," said Md Omar Faruk, secretary of the CPA.
The CPA has plug points to supply electricity to 1,600 containers. When congestion started due to Covid-19 in March, the port authority added 1,000 more plug points to supply electricity to 1,000 more containers. But that did not help much either because the number of containers is increasing.
"We are trying to ration the electricity supply, but that is not possible for long. Not only will goods start rotting, it will also lead to vessel congestion at the outer anchorage.
"It is increasing the average turnaround time of vessels, thus causing the performance of the port to decline as a huge number of containers are waiting to be offloaded from mother vessels," Faruk explained.
Importers say they have not been able to take delivery of goods because the countrywide shutdown over Covid-19 has resulted in a lack of vehicles and workers. They also say many sales centres are closed as markets are closed.
When contacted, Mahbabul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told The Business Standard, "We are also asking importers to take delivery of their goods quickly to keep the port yard free. If they do not take delivery on time, they may create artificial shortages of goods. However, the Covid-19 shutdown has had an impact on the situation."
Sources at the CPA and the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association said some businessmen always want to use the port as a warehouse by not taking delivery of the imported goods.
"They take delivery when the price of goods increase in the market. Sometimes they create artificial shortages in the local market by not releasing goods on time," said Ahsanul Haque Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association.
"To stop this practice, the port and customs authorities should escalate the auction of goods that are not released from the port on time," he added.