Vol. 4 Num 327 Fri. April 30, 2004  
Front Page

Chittagong Port
Shipping agents threaten strike

Shipping agents and Chittagong Port users have threatened to go on strike from May 9 to protest 'a fall in port efficiency', raising the spectre of millions of dollars in lost export-import trade.

Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association (BSAA) and Chittagong Port Users Forum asked the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) to find out a mechanism to thrash out the problems, reduce vessel turnaround time and improve overall port efficiency by May 9.

They said the efficiency of the port suffered 'a 10 to 12 percent' fall in the last four months.

"The shipping agents are counting a huge financial loss due to poor condition of Chittagong Port, which also ups the export costs," said a BSAA letter sent to the CPA chairman Tuesday.

The strike, if the stakeholders stick to their threat, will succeed a seven-day work trap that began with the April 28 hartal.

"Our export suffered a lot for hartals and public holidays in the last few days. And, if the shipping agents go on strike now, we will end up with disaster," said a leading garment exporter in Chittagong.

The BSAA sent the letter as a follow-up to a recent meeting between the CPA and the BSAA in Chittagong.

The letter signed by BSAA and Forum Chairman Farid Ahmed Chowdhury said some shipping lines are reportedly planning to impose surcharge for slow operation, which 'is alarming for maritime trade'.

Vessel winch operation by unwanted dock workers, inadequate supply of trailer, non-allocation of space to customs authorities to conduct prompt auction and space congestion for stacking containers were hindering the port operation, the letter also alleged.

At a meeting on April 21, the BSAA leaders informed the CPA chairman that the shipping lines, from now on, will appoint winch operators instead of taking the services of those of the port authorities.

"The CPA chairman in a meeting on April 21 at CPA Board Room on these issues endorsed our views and concerns but no effective measures have so far been taken in this regard, which is very frustrating," said Farid, also former president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He alleged that shipping lines have been facing difficulties and incurring huge financial losses due to CPA's neglect and inefficiency. "The charter rate of vessel has gone up by 400 to 500 percent," he said. "Even a few months ago, the charter rate of a vessel for day was $4,000 to $5,000, now it is $25,000 to $30,000. Now imagine what a single day's delay can cost us."

He urged the CPA chairman to arrange a joint meeting immediately with commissioner of customs, leaders of BSAA, CCCI and port officials to address the 'pressing need of the ship owners and unusual situation.'

The shipping agents and port users also asked the chairman to allow the use of private trailers with rebate in line with port tariff instead of the trailers supplied by the CPA-appointed contractors.

They demanded reduction of LOLO (lift-on and lift-off) charges at least by 60 percent to avoid unusual congestion in the port area. The LOLO charged by private dock operators is Tk 100 to Tk 150, while the charges for movement of each 20-foot and 40-foot container are Tk 500 and Tk 750.

Member (operation) of Chittagong Port Captain Amirul Islam said yesterday that the situation was not so alarming as the BSAA chairman is claiming.

"The current problem is temporary and will hopefully be over in next 20 to 25 days when we will float fresh tenders inviting private companies to build three new inland container depots (ICD)... They should give us time to do that for their benefit," he said.

Amirul, however, said the CPA has not yet received the letter.