New Chittagong-Kolkata direct service cuts costs, time

Amid COVID-19 disruptions that have restricted the movement of goods over land between Bangladesh and India, a direct waterborne service between Kolkata and Chittagong has debuted, opening a new — and cheaper — avenue for shippers.

Hong Kong-based Gold Star Line’s MV Asiatic Moon with 298 TEU of mainly raw materials for the apparel industry and some steel sheets reached Chittagong last Monday.

The vessel is scheduled to sail Friday for a return trip to Kolkata, Subhasish Roy, logistics manager of Trident Shipping Line Ltd., the Chittagong agent of Gold Star Line, told.

The vessel will run three voyages per month, Roy said.

Presently, containers are transported between Chittagong and Indian ports using the Port of Colombo in Sri Lanka, which takes nearly two to three weeks. The cost savings in avoiding Colombo are significant.

Roy said the ocean freight cost for a TEU container via the new direct service is less than $200, compared with $600 or more through Colombo.

“The voyage time is only 36 hours,” he said. “Unless the Chittagong port faces any congestion again, we will continue the service.”

Roy said for the time being the service will run with one vessel, but more vessels can be added if a good response from shippers develops.

“We are hopeful that the vessel will sail fully loaded in the next voyages,” he said.

Stakeholders applaud new service

Bangladesh and India have nearly $9 billion in bilateral trade, of which almost 75 percent is carried through land ports. Of the rest, some goods are transported through inland waterways and some by ocean-going vessels.

During the pandemic-linked shutdown, the transportation of goods through land ports remained mostly suspended in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. Special cargo trains had to be deployed to continue export-import trade on a limited scale.

M Shoeb Chowdhury, vice president of India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI), told the new service will be helpful for export-import trade between the two countries.

“Unless we face any difficulties in releasing goods from the port, it will be a better service in all aspects,” he said.