Chittagong Port suddenly turns dynamic
Performance goes up by 30pc, business cost reduces by 40pc
Following the promulgation of the state of emergency in January this year, the efficiency of the premier port Chittagong increased 30 percent and the cost of running business there reduced by 40 percent, a recent study revealed.
The turn-around time of ships at the port reduced to 4.48 days in the month of April whereas it was 11.65 days in January this year. The number of vessels handled per month at the port also increased to 86 in April from 70 in January last. The number of ships handled in January 2006 was 60.
The amount of cargo handled also increased to 83,245 TEUs (twenty equivalent units) in April from 76,213 in January last.
The customs' processing of export-import documents also ran at a quick pace to keep up with the goods handling at the port. The Chittagong Port customs officials claimed that over 98 percent documents have been assessed so far within the time frame and only two percent remains pending due to various reasons.
The business community expressed satisfaction over the progress made by the joint forces in stopping corruption, illegal toll and bringing discipline back in cargo handling.
Immediately after deployment of army personnel in order to aid the civil administration in January this year, a taskforce under the joint forces took initiative and got involved in the port activities, according to sources.
The taskforce held a series of meetings with all stake holders and rounded up corrupt labour leaders, port officials and other criminals who were obstacles to smooth operations of the port.
A number of private operators were also appointed to manage the terminal and handle cargo quickly as part of the reform programme and gradually the port's activities improved.
The business community and port users started getting the benefit of the actions taken by the joint forces and demanded continuation of the reforms and the system to be made permanent so that the premier port never went back to the previous dismal condition after changes in the national politics.
Earlier the premier port was a headache for the nation for long as it was termed one of the most insecure, inefficient and costliest ports of the world.
It is going to be a model for other sectors to follow as the long congestion of the ships and containers were untangled with three-months' effort, the sources said.
At the moment, there is no ship congestion at the port. Sometimes 5-8 berths remain empty due to lack of ships. Most ships enter the Karnaphuli channel without wasting any time waiting at the outer anchorage. In the month of January this year, the average waiting time of ships at the outer anchorage was over 14 days.
A medium-sized ship's per day cost of waiting is around $10,000-15,000. Sometimes ships wait at the outer anchorage due to technical reasons like low tide.
"We are happy and every sensible person should be happy not only because the corruption has been stopped but also for the port as it is moving towards maintaining a proper system," said MA Latif, senior vice president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI).
Due to the bad image of the port abroad, the local business community has to pay at least 20-22 percent higher freight charges than other ports of similar distant, he pointed out.
Latif said the port got a bad name as political parties used the port as a tool to make their demands heard. "We want relief from the anarchy created in the name of a democratic movement," he said.
Referring to the politicians, Latif further added that they have their democratic rights for a political movement but they do not have any right to create panic in order to realise their demands.
There should be a law made so that people who lost properties and suffered due to these political movements could be compensated, he stated.
"The port has gone through a revolutionary change in the last three months and we are moving in the right direction," said Mahbub Ali, chairman of Bangladesh Shippers Council--a platform for exporters.
He said it would take more time to make everything all right but whatever changes took place in last three months were never thought possible.
"We want the present condition to continue," he said, adding, "This is high time to give the message to the politicians that the port should remain above politics for the sake of this nation."
According to sources, the port situation started improving after the appointment of Saif Powertec to undertake an integrated operation at the exclusive container jetty, Chittagong Container Terminal (CCT).
Earlier, the company operated four sophisticated gantry cranes at the CCT. Operations at the CCT were done by various groups and each group had different jobs. As a result, the pace of container handling suffered.
The number of ships handled a month doubled at the CCT after all the groups' operations were integrated. A total of 31 container ships were handled at the CCT in April this year whereas 15 ships were handled in December last year.
Nine imported items are now taken directly off docks from ships helping a long way in reducing container congestion. The items are rice, wheat, beans, mastered, chickpeas, scraps, wet paper, cotton and poultry feed.
More than 1,000 trucks and over 2,000 labourers used to get inside the port to handle these goods creating traffic congestions inside the port.
The container keeping capacity at the port jetty was increased to 22,000 TUEs from 12,000 TEUs a few months ago by expanding the yard area. The space increased as the yard of newly constructed New Mooring Container Terminal (NCT) was added to the available space.
The port authority hoped the capacity would be increased to 30,000 TEUs by July this year when the park yard and under construction yard inside the port become available.
Earlier, lunch, dinner and prayer time used to be long in Chittagong port. The authorities enforced a duty roster at each station where the name of an employee and the duration of his or her duty time were mentioned. The duty officer goes on inspections to ensure that the right man is at right place at the right time.
The authorities also opened two complaint cells at the terminal building and at the girls' school to respond to complaints. This worked well as problems could be addressed faster, a source said.
The joint forces also took an initiative to stop power cuts inside the port. The Power Development Board (PDB) connected the port jetty with the national power grid and no disruption of power occurred at the terminal in the last three months.