Acting president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Moinuddin Ahmed expressed this concern at the meeting with Chittagong Customs House on Saturday morning.
Moinuddin Ahmed said the readymade garment industry is just about surviving on 'life support' due to vessel congestion.
"We are worried. Save us. If the port can't handle the export of $28 billion of readymade garment items, how will we achieve the target of $50 billion RMG items?" he asked.
Although the president of Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin shipped items by air, a Japanese buyer said that no new order would be given, Moinuddin said.
The Chittagong Customs authority organised the meeting to discuss keeping the Customs House and Chittagong port open 24 hours. Chairman of the National Board of Revenue Nojibur Rahman moderated the meeting. Shipping secretary Ashok Madhab Roy was present as special guest.
Director of Chittagong Chamber Anjan Shekhar Das said they get only one month to export readymade garments.
If 15 to 20 days were spent at the port, then only 10 days remain. So items were being shipped by air.
Das also alleged uninterrupted services of customs were also not available at private depots.
The shipping congestion existing for two months has not been resolved yet.
Around 10 container ships were waiting at the outer anchorage yesterday to reach jetties.
Transporting containers through the port doubled but since 2007, no new jetty was constructed. No gantry crane for lifting and downing containers from the ship was added to the port after 2005.
As the transport of goods has increased gradually, the crisis too has becomes acute.
Representative of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), Mahfuzul Haque Shah told the meeting on Friday, the infrastructural capacity of Chittagong port has not increased over the years to cope with the ever-increasing growth and it remains the same as such of 2005 in 2017. Whereas, Sri Lanka’s Colombo port was updated in 2016, keeping 2019 in mind, he added.
Khalilur Rahman, president of the Chittagong Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, stressed the need to increase equipment to keep the port active.
The CMCCI president told the meeting to send containers to private depots instead of keeping them at the port.
Representative of Bangladesh Container Shipping Agents Association, Gias Uddin Chowdhury, said some undelivered 4,200 containers, which could be auctioned, had been kept undelivered in the yard for the past 45 days to years, making a logjam for the port.
Director of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents’ Association, Shahed Sarwar, said it now takes two to 12 days for a vessel to reach the three jetties of the port.
President of the Federation of Bangladesh Customs Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association, AKM Akhter Hossain, said it requires around one day for unloading goods even after having customs clearance as the port lacks required equipments.
Speaking at the meeting, National Board of Revenue chairman Nojibur Rahman said they began an initiative to keep the port and customs active for 24 hours. He also urged the need to prepare a work-plan so that private and public agencies can provide 24-hour services.
Secretary Ashok Madhab Roy of the shipping ministry said steps are quickly being taken to procure equipment for the port.
Chairman of the Chittagong port rear admiral Khaled Iqbal said BGMEA has to follow a cut-off time for loading cargo.
He said 9,695 unit containers were loaded and unloaded in 24 hours since Friday 8:00am to Saturday 8:00am.
On 30 April, 9,397 containers were loaded and unloaded.
Member of NBR Sultan Mohammad Iqbal said manpower has to be increased to keep the port active for 24 hours. It is not possible to run three shifts with the manpower of one shift. A commissioner fell sick working two weeks in a row. Customs commissioner AFM Abdullah Khan presided over the meeting.
Representatives of port users of different organisations including Bangladesh Bank and BSTI spoke at the meeting.
*This report originally published in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Imam Hossain.