Congestion cripples Bangladesh's Chittagong Port

Shippers and ocean carriers using Bangladesh’s main gateway port of Chittagong have been battling heavy congestion for the past few weeks, and with the typical bump in import volumes during Ramadan and expected peak season demand, an improvement in cargo-handling appears to be months away.

Container ships calling at Chittagong have been forced to wait at the jetties and outer anchorage for up to five days, according to a customer advisory issued by NYK Line.

“This situation (berthing and yard congestion) will continue until mid/end September,” NYK Line (India) said. “As export yards are congested, trailers are often unable to lift laden export containers, resulting in long waits for trailers,” the container line said, adding that the clearance of import cargo has also been severely hampered.

The acute congestion has reportedly resulted from the combined impact of recent labor issues tied to cargo lightering operations, the Ramadan rush and disruptions caused by Cyclone Roanu.

Roughly 90 percent of Bangladesh’s seaborne trade moves through Chittagong. Port statistics compiled by show Chittagong’s container volumes in fiscal year 2014 to 2015 increased 15 percent year-over-year to 1.87 million twenty-foot-equivalent units.

Congestion is nothing new at Chittagong. The port is plagued by many infrastructure bottlenecks, limited yard space and equipment shortages that are a key contributor to long delays.

The latest congestion and vessel backups at Chittagong come as authorities in India and Bangladesh are preparing to set up more direct shipping services between ports in both countries following the signing of a coastal shipping cooperation agreement in June last year.

The first sailing under the arrangement departed from Krishnapatnam, a privately-operated minor terminal on India’s east coast, toward the end of March.

The two neighbors have had to rely on transshipment options at Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Singapore for the movement of cross-border freight, entailing long delays and considerable extra costs for shippers.

Besides aiming to boost bilateral trade, New Delhi believes that coastal shipping cooperation with Bangladesh will produce more traffic for major ports on the country’s east coast, which are struggling to grow volumes, especially Kolkata.

We expect similar congestion  pressures at ports in the other nations where Ramadan is celebrated  such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan.

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