The government is reported to have been working on formulation of a policy on decentralisation of loading and unloading of goods at seaports. This is aimed at, what the press reports say, reducing pressure on Chittagong port and ensure optimum use of capacity of other ports.
An eight-member committee is reportedly working on formulation of the policy as loading and unloading of goods is now largely concentrated on Chittagong port. The country's prime seaport handles 92 per cent of seaborne trade of the country while two other seaports pass idle time for lack of vessels.
Some 40 million tonnes of bulk cargoes are being unloaded per annum from mother vessels at the outer anchorage of Chittagong port through lighter vessels and transported across the country. Of the total volume, only 2.0 million tonnes of cargoes can be unloaded at lighterage jetties of the port. The rest are being unloaded by lighterage vessels which are very low in number compared to the requirement.
Since lighterage vessels are few in number and the number of jetties across the country is also inadequate, the turnaround time of lighter vessels stands between 10 and 30 days. As a result, mother vessels remain stranded at the outer anchorage for long days or even months, forcing the importers to pay demurrage.
As the transportation cost of goods goes up significantly after unloading from mother vessels, the cargoes need to be carried from one part of the country to another. The consumers finally pay extra due to high transportation cost of goods.
According to a statistics, Chittagong seaport handled 79 million tonnes of goods in fiscal year 2016-17, registering over 12 per cent growth. On the other hand, the capacity of Mongla port remains unutilised largely since big vessels show less interest to anchor in the port because of low water draught.
The number of container ships and the flow of containers to Chittagong port is expected to be double to 2,200 in the next five years. By that time, the traffic flow on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway will rise by 60 per cent.
Inflows through land ports will more than double while air cargo will grow by at least three times in seven years. All of these have to be accomplished with the major facilities that the country has in hand.
The fact remains the capacity of Mongla port is on the rise. Once the Payra port starts operation in full swing, the pressure on Chittagong port will reduce significantly.
Bangladesh has no choice other than developing its logistics systems, which will face tremendous pressure if the country wants to continue growing. In fact, there is a need for ensuring governance in the overall logistics system.
Overdependence on roads for logistics has to be curtailed. There is a need for improving rail and inland waterways to develop a multimodal system. Linking waterways and railways with the special economic zones should also get preference.
Construction of a new terminal at Patenga has started and steps have been taken to acquire land for establishing a Bay terminal. The government has taken steps to improve draft of the channel and other facilities at Mongla port. The authorities need to buy a crane for the port.
Among other activities of the government, dredging in the channel to Paira port is going to start soon. There is a plan to establish another port at Moheshkhali in Chittagong. Container handling at Pangaon terminal is increasing.
Analysts suggest construction of zone-wise facility and container off-docks alongside expanding the facility of transportation, distribution and logistic chain. They also focussed more on unloading goods at Mongla and Payra ports which are brought for development of northern and western part of the country.
Besides, enhancing the capacity of Pangaon Inland Container Terminal (PICT) for handling containerised goods is also seen as vital to lower loading and unloading pressure on Chittagong port.
In the circumstances, policy decision must be taken for forcing the mother vessels to anchor at Mongla port which carries cargoes for northern and south-western part of the country.
Decentralisation of cargo unloading is, in fact, a must to cut transportation time and cost. This will help supply goods at low cost at consumer level.
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