Containers loaded with imported goods pile up at the Chattogram port as delivery and other activities came to a standstill during the Eid holidays. Release of containers did not pick up in the last two days as well, prompting the authorities to sound alarm about congestion.

Import containers are piling up at an alarming rate at Chattogram port due to the worst delivery during the Eid holidays and the subsequent poor release of goods for the fresh lockdown, which could cause congestion anew.

Importers say they cannot receive imported goods as their factories are shut because of the strict lockdown, which began on July 23. 

Under the circumstances, the chairman of the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) requested the shipping secretary on Saturday to take necessary steps to convince the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to allow shifting of all types of import load containers to the 19 private inland container depots (ICDs) and arranging delivery from there for at least the next two months.

The chairman expressed concerns that if the delivery did not pick up, the port’s operational activities would come to a halt within two or three days.

The shipping ministry and the NBR moved fast. The NBR yesterday permitted to move the containers to the ICDs to unstuff goods and deliver them from there.

The permission will be effective till August 31, subject to the scanning of all containers before transferring them from the port. The physical examination of the containers carrying commercial items has to be carried out as well. Currently, 38 types of import-laden containers are allowed to directly transfer to the ICDs for unloading and making deliveries.

The release of imported items from the port usually slows during Eid holidays, but this year it has reached a record low level: not a single container could be delivered to the consignees in the 48 hours from the morning of Eid day, which fell on Wednesday, to Friday morning.

On Saturday and Sunday, 933 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of import containers were released, way lower than 3,500 TEUs delivered on a normal day.

As the port authorities kept open loading and unloading during the Eid holidays except for a few hours on Wednesday, the port yards are now choking with containers received from the vessels.

Before the Eid holiday began on July 20, the number of containers lying at the port was 37,819 TEUs against the port’s capacity of 49,018 TEUs. As of yesterday morning, it rose to 43,574 TEUs.

The scenario is most alarming for the yards dedicated to storing import load containers.

As of yesterday, 40,741 TEUs of import containers were lying at the port, exceeding the capacity of 39,518 TEUs.

Before Eid-ul-Azha, the CPA sent letters to various stakeholders, including business associations such as the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and shipping agents, urging them to continue receiving imports immediately after Eid day.

Since the letter made little impact, the CPA, on Saturday, again wrote to the BGMEA, the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Bangladesh Fresh Fruit Importers Association, the Chattogram Fruit Traders Association, the Chattogram Customs Clearing and Forwarding Association and others to take the delivery during the weekend.

It also warned them of imposing a penalty on the store rent if the delivery does not speed up.

A major portion of the goods is mainly the raw materials used by garment factories.

Contacted, BGMEA First Vice-president Syed Nazrul Islam said though the port, customs and banks remained open, the importers were failing to have the goods released since factories had been shut due to the lockdown.

“Officials of our commercial sections and C&F agents need to come to process the delivery activities. But it is not possible because of the lockdown.”

CPA Chairman M Shahjahan, however, told The Daily Star yesterday, “If we can shift a good number of import load containers to the ICDs, and the goods can be delivered from there, it will free up space in the port yards.”

A total of 53,864 TEUs containers, including import load, export load and empty containers, were at the private ICDs yesterday against their combined capacity of 78,700 TEUs.

Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association Secretary Ruhul Amin Sikder said the ICDs were already burdened with a backlog of 12,993 TEUs of export-laden containers.

“These containers need to be cleared to a large extent. Otherwise, it would be difficult for the ICDs to act in line with the NBR order.”

“We have already advised the ICDs to engage their best logistics to shift containers from the port, and the transfer will commence in the evening,” he said in the afternoon yesterday.