Direct container ship movement from Bangladesh to Europe through Chattogram port has opened a new horizon in the export-import trade of the country, said Rear Admiral M Shahjahan, chairman of Chattogram Port Authority (CPA).
In an interview with The Business Standard, he said that recently a container ship has arrived at Chattogram port from the Port of Civitavecchia, Italy which has opened the door for direct container shipping from Bangladesh to Europe.
He talked about the record success of the port in achieving positive growth in container handling, cargo handling and ship handling in 2021 despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the port was fully operational without any disruption and container and shipping congestion during the pandemic while many ports around the world struggled.
M Shahjahan thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her instruction to run the port keeping focus on both life and livelihood during the pandemic.
He also talked about the progress, challenges and plans of Chattogram port for the future. The interview was taken by Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury.
TBS: Chattogram port achieved positive growth even in the difficult time of Covid-19 exceeding all the previous records. How did that happen?
Rear Admiral M Shahjahan: The Prime Minister had instructed to operate the port focusing on both life and livelihood. We tried to implement those guidelines. That is why the Chattogram port has achieved record success in all areas including container handling, cargo handling, ship arrivals and turnaround time in 2021.
The operational activities of the port were in full swing during this time due to the concentration, planning and hard work of the port officials in coordination with the stakeholders. We kept the whole port operational with minimal manpower though the operations in different ports in different countries were stopped.
Who do you think played the key roles in these achievements?
All the officials and employees of the port kept their activities here 100% operational during the pandemic risking lives. We kept the situation normal with the help of all the stakeholders related to the port. However, we have lost 53 employees while trying to keep the port operational. Numerous officers and employees have also been infected by the virus.
Besides the port officials and employees, all types of port workers, shipping agents, C&F agents, freight forwarders, terminal operators, berth and ship handling operators also had a role to play. All the organisations concerned including the Navy and Coast Guard, District Administration, Highway Police, Customs, BGMEA, Chattogram Chamber, FBCCI had overall cooperation to keep the port activities running.
As a result of uninterrupted ship berthing at the port, turnaround time and waiting time have been reduced. The fixed operating costs, charter hire charges and insurance premiums for ocean-going ships have also come down. Different ports in the world imposed container surcharges due to congestion but Chattogram port did not have to do that as there was no clutter of ships or containers here. This has saved a lot of foreign currency.
According to a report by Singapore-based international piracy watchdog ReCAAP, there were no incidents of robbery in 2021 in the outer anchorage of Chattogram port. The credit goes to our Navy Coast Guard and Port Security for this.
Are there any initiatives to increase the connectivity of the Chattogram port with the developed world in container transport?
A ship has recently arrived at Chattogram port from the Port of Civitavecchia, Italy with containers. This has started direct container shipping from Bangladesh to Europe. It has opened a new horizon for trading. In addition, an MoU has recently been signed between Ranong Port of Thailand and Chattogram Port. This will further enhance the economic relations between Bangladesh and Thailand. Coastal shipping activities between Bangladesh and Thailand will be started in near future under this MoU.
Container handling is increasing every year. What are the plans to increase container space and capacity in the yard?
Container handling at the port is on the rise. It is important to build a container yard at Chattogram port to keep pace with the growth of the country's imports and exports. With that in mind, the New Mooring Overflow Container Yard has been built. Besides, container yards have also been set up in the unused lands of the port.
Overflow Container Yard, which was inaugurated on 2 January this year, has a capacity of 4,000 TEUS. Through this, the capacity to hold containers in the port has been increased from 49,018 TEUS to 53,018 TEUS. Besides, a service jetty has been constructed for berthing of the fleet owned by Chattogram port, especially tugboats, speed boats, barges, dredgers, pilot boats etc.
At present, the port is in the 67th position in Lloyd's List. What could be the position of the port in 2021?
I hope the port's position will be 50th in 2021 as it has set a record in container handling.
What kind of incentives were given to the officers and employees to continue the activities of the port during the pandemic?
A proposal has been sent by the port for financial incentives which is awaiting approval from the ministry. The ministry has not yet said how much money will be paid.
Please, tell us about the progress of the Patenga Container Terminal project?
To increase the capacity of the port, the Patenga Container Terminal with a 600-meter-long jetty has been set up on 27.5 acres of land. Around 4,500 containers can be kept together in the 89,000 square meters inner yard. We have set a target of lifting 4.45 lakh containers annually. The activities of the terminal will start in mid-2022.
What is the progress of the Bay Terminal project?
The construction of the Bay Terminal, which is about four times bigger than the Chattogram port, is undergoing. Several foreign companies are interested in investing in this project. The ministry is studying their proposals. Besides, a feasibility study has already been completed for the construction of the terminal funded by Chattogram port.
The process of hiring a consulting firm for detailed drawing and design has been finalised. I hope this project will be operational in 2024. The future green port Bay Terminal is 6 km away from the Chattogram port. At the terminal, ships with a depth of 12 meters, a capacity of 6,000 containers and a length of more than 280 meters will be able to berth effortlessly.
This will save time and money. The turnaround time of the ships will also be reduced. If the terminal is built, 24 hours navigation would be possible.
How far has the Matarbari Deep Sea Port project progressed?
The official activities of the Matarbari Deep Sea Port Development Project started on 16 November 2020. The construction work is supposed to be completed in the middle of 2025. After that ships with a depth of 18 meters will be able to dock at the terminal of Matarbari port. This port can accommodate ships with 8,000 to 10,000 containers capacity. Initially, it is being designed to handle eight lakh containers.
Once the port is operational, large ships from any country will be able to come here directly and we would not need to rely on transit ports of other countries. It will also be able to facilitate transit and transhipment of goods to neighbouring countries which will play a significant role in the overall economic development of Bangladesh.
What are the social work that Chattogram port is doing for the betterment of people?
Chattogram port has been running different social and cultural institutions including five primary schools, two high schools, two colleges, one madrassa, and 11 maktabs for the people living in the surrounding areas. It has also built mosques, temples and pagodas. The port is going to open a school for children with special needs in a few days. The port also operates hospitals for port officials, employees and their family members.
The port also has a contribution to sports. Its cricket team won the title of Chattogram District Champion in 2019. Shahriar Alam, a student of Chattogram Port Sports Complex, has joined the under-19 national cricket team. The port authority has constructed an international standard eight-lane swimming pool.
The port authority has also provided various assistance to the people of the port area during the Covid-19 period.