Chattogram Port, which handles 92 percent of the country's export and import business, witnessed the lowest growth in goods handling in the just-concluded 2019-2020 fiscal year compared to the last seven fiscal years.
According to the CPA statistics, the country's premier port's container handling growth came down to only 2.92 percent in the FY 2019-2020, which was 9.33 percent in FY 2012-2013.
The port's container handling growth was 10.68 percent in FY 2013-2014, 18.96 percent in FY 2014-2015, 16.79 percent in FY 2015-2016, 10.89 percent in FY 2016-2017, 12.17 percent in FY 2017-2018, and FY 3.90 percent in 2018-2019, as per the CPA data.
Economists and the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) have blamed Covid-19 pandemic, which has impacted the global economy as well as that of Bangladesh, for the decline in growth.
The port has also witnessed the lowest growth in cargo handling. In FY 2019-2020, the cargo handling came down to 3.38 percent, which was 4.24 percent in FY 2012-2013.
In FY 2019-2020, the growth in mother vessel arrival was 1.76, the lowest in the last eight years except for the previous fiscal year.
Dr Moinul Islam, a former professor of economics at Chittagong University, told The Business Standard, "The operational growth of the port has shrunken as a result of Covid-19 impacts and it will continue in the next fiscal year too. Unless we accelerate work to recover our economy, the port's operational growth will not increase."
The CPA authorities said handling decreased in April-June due to the pandemic, and in the FY 2019-20, the port activities were also halted by cyclone Bulbul and Amphan.
When contacted, CPA Chairman Rear Admiral SM Abul Kalam Azad told The Business Standard, "The port's operational activities did not close even for a moment when the government declared shutdown and general holidays. Unloading imported raw materials were halted due to the closure of factories, supply from port came to almost standstill for supply chain disrupted for lack of vehicles, which have impacted overall growth of the port."
"We have identified the problems and the port operation activities are normal now. It is not only a pandemic for health, it is also for the economy," he added.
In April, activities at Chattogram Port came to a standstill as the number of imported containers exceeded the port's storage capacity due to slow delivery of goods amid the shutdown.
The container congestion at port yard also created huge vessel congestion at the outer anchorage.
In April, the port witnessed 47 percent negative growth in container cargo handling while 32 percent negative growth in bulk cargo handling compare to March. The container handling, which did not come down below 249,669 TEUs (Twenty feet equivalent units) since July 2019, came down to 1,32,921 TUEs in April 2020.
In May, 204,801 TUEs and in June, 219,157 TUEs are the lowest compared to the nine months of the year.
Not only handling but also the number of arriving mother vessels, which was 366 in March, came down to 257 in April, a 30 percent fall compared to the earlier month.
The downward trend in the arrival of mother vessels has continued as 223 mother vessels in May and 237 in June berthed at the port, which is the lowest compared to the same time in the fiscal year 2019-2020.
When contacted, AM Chowdhury Selim, vice president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told The Business Standard, "The lowest growth in eight years in export and import goods shows us a vivid picture of how our business has been impacted by the pandemic."
Mahbubul Alam, president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said, "We should quickly complete our ongoing projects including Bay Terminal and Patenga Container terminal."