The government has moved to formulate regional policy on decentralisation of loading and unloading of goods to reduce pressure on Chittagong port and ensure optimum use of capacity of other ports, officials have said.
An eight-member committee, led by additional secretary of the Ministry of Shipping (MoS) Abdul Quddus Khan, is 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.
According to officials, some 40 million tonnes of bulk cargos 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 cargos 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 need.
Since lighterage vessels are low in number and the number of jetties across the country is also inadequate, the turnaround time of lighterage vessels stands between 10 and 30 days.
As a result, mother vessels remain stranded at the outer anchorage of the port for long days or even for months, forcing the importers to pay demurrage as ship rent.
As the transportation cost of goods goes up significantly after unloading from mother vessels at Chittagong port, the cargos need to be carried from one part of the country to another.
The consumers finally pay extra due to high transportation cost of goods, the officials said.
At a recent meeting of the committee, a representative of Chittagong port suggested construction of zone-wise facility and container off-docks alongside expanding the facility of transportation, distribution and logistic chain.
He recommended taking decision to unload goods at Mongla and Payra ports which are brought for development of northern and western part of the country.
Besides, he suggested enhancing the capacity of Pangaon Inland Container Terminal (PICT) for handling containerised goods to lower loading and unloading pressure on Chittagong port.
A representative of Mongla port said that the capacity of the port has been enhanced significantly nowadays.
He also suggested taking policy decision for forcing the mother vessels to anchor at Mongla port which carries cargos for northern and south-western part of the country.
A representative of department of shipping said decentralisation of cargo unloading is a must to cut transportation time and cost. This will help supply goods at low cost at consumer level.
Mr Quddus Khan told the FE on Tuesday that the committee held its first meeting recently and asked all concerned to give their opinions in written form as early as possible.
He said shifting the dependence on Chittagong port in case of unloading of goods is a must to reduce congestion there.
"We are also working on increasing the capacity of Chittagong port further through buying equipment and building terminals and jetties," Mr Khan said.
He said 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."
The country's prime 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.
Dhaka-based shippers also show reluctance to use the port due to poor connectivity.
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