Ctg port facing ‘unprecedented’ crisis of lightering vessels

CCCI president urges govt to allow at least 500 more vessels

Pankaj Dastider | Wednesday, 29 November 2017

CHITTAGONG, Nov 28: Unloading of cargoes is facing serious disruptions in the seaport here due to 'unprecedented' crisis of lightering vessels, resulting in congestion of containers and vessels in the port that reached its peak, port sources said.
They said the situation also created immense trouble for the businesses, mainly importers of industrial and infrastructure raw materials and consumer items.
At present, over 100 mother vessels with huge quantity of imported cargoes are waiting in the deep sea of the port's outer anchorage for unloading cargoes on the lightering vessels, which take them to importers' destinations. Most of these vessels have bulk cargoes on board.
The larger vessels cannot enter the port jetties because of the low draft and unload a large volume of the cargoes through lightering vessels.
As the importers do not get the lightering vessels as per their demand from Water Transport Cell (WTC) -- a forum of the lightering vessels owners -- they have to count huge financial losses on account of demurrage against overstay of the vessels, and thus facing operational obstructions in production units.
Apparently, there has so far been no move from the authorities concerned in this regard. Rather, the government's decision of banning manufacture of new lighter vessels in the country has aggravated the situation, importers said.
Not that the importers will only pay the demurrage charges as per contract, but that the shipping lines might claim higher tariff for shipping cargoes to the seaport because the ships face unusual delay in the port.
It is severely hampering the image of Chittagong in the maritime world, they observed.
A vessel carrying 36,300 tonnes of raw sugar started lightering the cargo at the outer anchorage on September 7 and finished it on November 9. The foreign flag vessel arrived at the port's outer anchorage on September 3 and got customs formalities done in four days.
Another vessel carrying fertiliser reached at the outer anchorage on October 18 and got its 12,000 tonnes of cargo unloaded to lightering vessels, taking 25 days.
According to the estimate of the ship handling operators, the raw sugar carrier was supposed to take 10-12 days for lightering the cargo while the said volume of fertiliser was supposed to take three to four days.
Amid severe shortage of lightering vessels, the larger vessels carrying import cargoes have to wait in queue from weeks to months for getting the required lightering vessels.
A vessel is scheduled to leave the port after discharging cargoes in the usual period of 10 to 12 days, but it has to overstay for more than double the time for not getting lighters.
The non-availability of lighters leads to disruption in production units and forces importers to count demurrages worth millions of dollars.
At the same time, uncertainty looms over getting ships from the loading international ports to call in Chittagong port in the following turn.
Sources in the WTC that regulates and controls supply of lightering vessels said as many as 734 lightering vessels with over 18,000 tonnes of different types of cargoes were staying at different areas of the country.
Of those, the number of lightering vessels overstaying with import cargoes in surrounding areas of Chittagong will not be less than 145.
Other stations where lightering ships are overstaying included the river ghats in Narayangonj, Bahgabari, Noapara and others.
This is the main reason why the WTC could not provide lightering vessels as per demand of the importers.
The WTC used to hold daily berthing meeting to provide ships on demand. But, in the recent times, they could not even hold the daily berthing meetings as they don't have the necessary number of ships against greater demand from the importers.
They said that wheat, rice, fertiliser, sugar, mustard seeds etc. used to be lightered in the past. Now many other items including coal, cotton, stone and steel products have been added. But the number of lightering vessels has not been increased to meet the growing demand.
President of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) Mahbubul Alam said the country's businesses have gown up immensely over the last several years as the economy is growing.
So it is obvious that many more lightering vessels are required compared to the existing ones, he added.
He said the government should allow at least 500 more lightering vessels to cope with the situation at this stage.
If the government approves construction of lightering ships, he said, the local ship builders could help a lot by supplying ships within next one year.
Otherwise, the problem will continue to hinder growth and cause sufferings to the importers and exporters, said the CCCI president, seeking immediate government steps in this regard.

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