Mongla port, the country’s second biggest seaport, has made a strong comeback as it sees an increased arrival of ships, making it a major gateway for Bangladesh’s overseas trade once again.
Officials and port users say the opening of the Padma bridge will give a further boost to the port.
The monthly arrival of ships, which fell below 10 in 2008, grew several times in recent years.
In 2021, 75 vessels arrived at the port every month on average, up from 46 five years ago, showing signs of steady growth in activities thanks to the completion of dredging at the outer bar of a nearly 140-kilometre channel to improve navigability and enable the movement of vessels that require a higher draft.
The dredging involving Tk 712 crore was completed in December 2020. And the Mongla Port Authority (MPA) is in process of buying 75 pieces of equipment and machinery to handle cargoes under a Tk 433 crore project.
Besides, the port authority is buying six vessels to handle ocean-going ships under another project involving Tk 767 crore.
Users say these steps have given impetus to businesses to use the port at an increasing rate at a time when the country’s biggest seaport in Chattogram faces repeated congestion as it is running at full capacity.
“Arrivals of ships have increased as the economic growth has fueled domestic demand. Besides, the Chattogram port, in one sense, is saturated in its current capacity. Many are looking for an alternative,” said Commodore Md Abdul Wadud Tarafder, member for harbour and marine at the MPA.
Activities of the port in the southwest region began to pick up after the government took several projects to revive its old glory.
The port has registered 17 per cent annual average growth in ship handling since 2012, while the volume of cargo handling grew 19 per cent over the past decade.
It can handle one crore tonnes of cargo, 100,000 twenty-foot equivalent units of containers, and 20,000 cars annually. In 2020-21, cargo handling stood at 1.19 crore tonnes, just double the volume five years ago.
“We don’t have any waiting time for ships,” said Tarafder.
The port has 25 berthing facilities, including five jetties. Yet, it suffers from an inadequate draft at the jetty that restricts the entry of vessels of more than seven metres draft.
Dredging at the inner bar of the Pashur channel is underway to enable ships with more than nine metres draft to use the jetty. The Tk 793 crore dredging project is expected to complete by June next year.
“Once dredging is complete, the arrival of ships will increase a lot,” Tarafder said.
The opening of the Padma bridge, scheduled for June this year, along with the establishment of the railway link will make the port more attractive to businesses, at home and abroad.
The opening of the bridge will shorten the distance between the Mongla port and Dhaka, the main economic and industrial hub in Bangladesh, and it will be the closest from the capital compared to Chattogram and Payra ports.
The distance between Dhaka and Chattogram is 260 kms and the completion of the Padma bridge will narrow the distance between Dhaka and Mongla to 170 kms from 274 kms now.
Tarafder said the port is going to be connected by railways along with the existing road and waterways, and the use of the port by businesses will increase once the bridge opens to the public.
“We are working to be a regional port.”
Its closest ports are located in landlocked Nepal and Bhutan. It is located on the artery of regional waterways under the India-Bangladesh protocol route on inland water transit and trade.
“These unique location and features have provided the port a greater opportunity to be a vibrant and dominant port in the region,” said Tarafder.
The overall turnaround time of ships at the port is expected to halve to 24 hours from the present 48 hours after the purchase of equipment and gantry crane.
“The prospect of the Mongla port is very bright. Activities have increased and the demand for using the port will jump just after the completion of the Padma bridge,” said Syed Mohammad Arif, chairman of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association.
He said the cost of shipping goods through the port will reduce because of the much-talked bridge.
“So, exporters will be interested in using the port,” he said, adding that congestion at the Chattogram port will decline as more ships will come to the Mongla port.
He suggested the MPA take preparations to increase handling and other facilities so that the port can respond to the spike in demand.
NS Guha Roy Nilaz, regional general manager of shipping and logistics service provider Karnaphuli Group in Khulna, said vessels with drafts up to 8.5 metres can come up to the Akram point and Harbaria.
Currently, fully loaded container vessels can’t navigate in the channel because of the lower draft. That is why the cost of shipping containers from the port is higher.
Ships with up to 9.5 metres draft will be able to come to the jetty following the dredging of the inner bar of the channel, he said.
“Then, we will see a higher volume of container cargoes, especially garments, coming for shipment through Mongla,” Nilaz said.
According to him, what is needed now is to develop backup facilities. The establishment of off-dock is also necessary to facilitate export containers.
The port has space to establish inland container depots and it can be set up within 5 kms of the port, he said, suggesting that the customs authority revise the Inland Container Depot Policy depending on the situation and surrounding of the port instead of making a common rule.
Md Sultan Hossain Khan, president of the Clearing & Forwarding Agents Association, says services of the port and customs have improved.
“Users are also bringing more goods through the port now than in the past.”
Source : The Daily Star