Feeder operator oppose provision of flag vessel law

The mandatory provision for obtaining waiver certificates 15 days before loading any cargo as per the Flag Vessel (protection) Act 2019 has caused trouble for foreign container feeder vessels at Chattogram port.

The law was passed last November with a provision for locally owned vessels to carry 50 per cent of all sea-bound cargoes.

According to the law, foreign vessels need to apply to the Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) in Chattogram to obtain a waiver certificate 15 days before they load or unload any cargo for Bangladesh, which would enable national flag vessels get adequate cargoes.

In a circular issued on September 17, the MMD stated that the provision would be effective from today.

However, container carrying feeder vessel operators find the provision to be an obstacle to their trade.

Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association (BSAA) Chairman Ahsanul Huq Chowdhury sent letters to the MMD’s principal officer and director general of the Department of Shipping on September 21 and September 29 respectively, demanding a full withdrawal of the circular.

In his letter, the BSAA chairman said vessels go to and from Chattogram port and other ports in the sub-continent and neighbouring countries in a very short period of time with voyages not lasting more than 5 days.

But it is not possible for feeder operators to select vessels, book cargoes and complete other related procedures within 15 days, the letter read.

This is why applying for the waiver certificate 15 days before loading cargo is quite impossible, Chowdhury told The Daily Star.

He went on to say that like all other countries that offer different facilities to ship import or export goods in order to support foreign trade, the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) has relaxed the cut-off time or gate-in time of export-laden containers to support the apparel sector.

Garment exports would be hampered due to the MMD circular, according to the letter.

The BSAA came to know from the MMD website that they also need permission from the Bangladesh Ocean Going Ship Owners Association to obtaining a waiver certificate, which is illogical, Chowdhury said.

In June, two national flag container vessels — the MV Sahare and MV Sarera — began transporting goods from Chattogram port to Singapore and Malaysia.

Currently, over 80 feeder vessels are engaged in transporting containerised cargo between Chattogram port and four transhipment ports — Colombo, Singapore, Port Klang and Tanjung Pelepas — as well as directly with some Chinese ports.

The BSAA chairman also said that the two national flagged container vessels carry a small portion of the containerised cargo.

Mentioning that foreign vessels would face uneven competition if such a provision is made effective, he argued that the time period should be shortened from 15 days to five.

When contacted, MMD Principal Officer Captain Giashuddin Ahmed admitted that applying 15 days ahead of loading is not feasible.

However, he added that everyone should comply with the directive as the concerned authorities have yet to make any changes to the provision.