The Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) will undertake a Tk 2.42 billion ($29.1 million) capital dredging project to dredge the Karnaphuli River, which will enable four lightering jetties to start functioning – something that will help reduce congestion at the country’s prime seaport.
Shippers say the low water draft in domestic routes, especially in the Karnaphuli River, prevent lighterage vessels’ navigation, causing delays in unloading of goods from vessels anchored in the outer bar. What’s more, when lighterage vessels are unable to navigate the river water smoothly, due to the low draft, such as during April through August, some big cargo vessels in the outer anchorage had to wait nearly a month to finish unloading goods.
As a result of the above scenario, parties get goods/raw materials much later than expected, which causes production disruptions. They also need to take into account demurrage for vessels' additional days stay in the port area.
On Wednesday, the cabinet committee on public procurement, with Finance Minister AMA Muhith as chair, approved the dredging project.
CPA Chairman Rear Admiral M. Khaled Iqbal told the JOC.com that the dredging project will enable plying by lighterage vessels and tankers with up to a 4-meter draft (13.1-feet) in the Karnaphuli River, enabling them to carry goods to the lightering jetties.
Iqbal said everyday thousands of such vessels receive goods from ships staying at the outer anchorage of Chittagong Port, and ply through river routes across the country.
Vessels with a larger than 9.5-meter draft (31-foot) cannot berth in the Port of Chittagong main jetties, due to low water draft, and are anchored in the outer bar of the port. Small, lighter vessels then carry goods from those big vessels, anchored in the outer bar, to the jetties, which are called lightering jetties, situated in the domestic waterways.
Currently, container ships ranging from 500 TEU to 1600 TEU and general cargo vessels from 10,000 dwt to 15,000 dwt can berth in the main jetties of the port.
Iqbal said river dredging will start next week and take place over the next 12 months. The project also involves maintenance dredging for three years to keep the river route constantly navigable.
CPA’s 400-meter long jetty and several private jetties are in the dredging project area. At CPA’s jetty, four lighterage vessels will be able to berth simultaneously time.
“I am hopeful we will open the jetty for operation by March, after carrying out necessary dredging,” Iqbal said.
The Bangladesh Navy will carry out the dredging work under the direct purchase method, for quicker implementation of the project.
“We can’t use the lighterage jetty due to low the draft of water in Karnaphuli River. We count financial loss every day,” said Mahfuzul Huq Shah, former director of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Businesses say once the lightering jetties become operational, lightering in Chittagong Port, as well as the unloading of goods as a whole, will be accelerated.
The Chittagong seaport now handles a volume of goods well above its designed capacity of 1.7 million TEU per year. In 2016, it handled 2.3 million TEU, up 16 per cent from 2015. Officials expect that in 2017 the port will register a similar growth in container handling.
Businesses have demanded an increase in the port’s capacity by building terminals and jetties and adding necessary modern equipment to handle the increased trade volume. These businesses have underscored to port officials that the port needs to increase its capacity manifold, as neighboring countries are set to use Chittagong Port as a transit point for their domestic and overseas trade.