Berthing constraints at Chittagong port

Though it is not a peak season, the Chittagong port is still experiencing a heavy pressure from vessels waiting to be cleared. The reasons include congestions at the transhipments ports of Colombo and Singapore. As a result, feeder vessels carrying containerised goods to the mother ships at those two hubs as well as those arriving at the Chittagong port from there to unload their cargoes are clustering together. They are waiting at the Chittagong port’s outer anchorage for want of berthing space. A number of jetties at the Chittagong port, on the other hand, are occupied as ships carrying large volumes of imported iron bars are being unloaded there. It is to be noted that those iron bars are to be used for the massive infrastructure building work going on in the country. As a result, container vessels are facing mooring problem as fewer jetties are available for the purpose. Understandably, unloading of cargoes involving construction materials at the jetties in question is getting a kind of priority. Clearly, it is also contributing to the crowding of container vessels at the port and increasing waiting time for the vessels at the outer anchorage. The remaining main jetties, as expected, are busy as they are being used for clearing cargoes from some container vessels, while a good number of others are waiting for their turn to be unloaded.

Meanwhile, the presence of huge volumes of undelivered refrigerated containers, or what are called reefer containers, lying at the port yard are proving to be a problem as those are putting an undue pressure on power plugs available at the port to keep those containers connected to power line. As they are occupying the port yard, other ships carrying reefer containers have been kept waiting at the outer anchorage.

The reason for those reefer containers’ continued presence at the port’s space is reportedly a lack of interest on the part of their owners to take delivery of those. That is so because they contain the perishable item, onion, of which the market price is learnt to have been showing a declining trend. The importers of the onions, if they are not willing to market their goods at the moment, should find alternative arrangements to store their goods rather than occupying the port yard indefinitely. For this is causing undue delay in unloading of cargoes from waiting vessels. Also, there are reportedly other vessels containing reefer containers waiting at the outer anchorage for want of berthing space at the jetties.

This is an issue that the importers’ forums should look into and resolve for the sake of clearing port’s space so that waiting ships may also unload their containers. Also, the port authorities should communicate with the owners of the reefer containers and settle matters as soon as possible for smoother operation of the port. Converging of more vessels than there are berthing facilities at this time of the year indicates that business is looking up. They should doubtless raise our spirits. In fact, it signals a return to business as usual after witnessing the pandemic-induced decline in business over the better part of the current year. But it is also concerning as ships have to wait longer, increasing costs. The solution lies in increasing the Chittagong port’s handling capacity. The government should consider the issue with renewed emphasis.