Bangladesh's gateway to foreign trade, Chattogram seaport, has received a boost as the Patenga Container Terminal has come into operation on a trial basis with the unloading of rice imported from Myanmar.
The vessel MCL-19 carrying some 2,650 tonnes of atap rice docked at the newly built terminal on Tuesday, marking the introduction of a new terminal at the country's main seaport after 15 years.
Earlier, the Newmooring Container Terminal was built back in 2007 while the construction of the new terminal was completed earlier this year.
A ship has to cross a distance of some 14km from the estuary of the River Karnaphuli to reach the main jetty of the port. But the distance to the new terminal is just 6km.
In the fiscal 2005-06, container handling at the Chattogram port was 8.27 lakh twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), which increased to 32.55 lakh TEUs in FY22.
In other words, container handling at Chattogram port has increased by 393% in the past 15 years, but no new jetty has been added to the port. Therefore, to increase the capacity of the port, businessmen had been demanding the construction of a new jetty for a long time.
Chattogram Port Secretary Omar Farooq told The Business Standard that until the new terminal is fully operational, relatively small ships which do not have their own cranes and carry government-imported rice will be handled here.
"The new terminal may take some time to have various processes completed, including the installation of equipment and hiring of operators. After this, container vessel handling will go on in full swing," he added.
Earlier, the terminal had been scheduled for inauguration on a trial basis in July. But the date was later rescheduled.
The local agent of the vessel MCL-19 is Seven Seas Shipping Lines Limited, while the stevedore is Messrs AW Khan.
Even though the ship berthed on Tuesday, the stevedoring company started unloading goods this morning. The rice is unloaded from the ship and sent to Halishahar and Dewanhat container scanning divisions in the city.
About 92% of the country's import and export goods pass through Chattogram port. Currently, the port has 19 jetties at three terminals: General Cargo Berth (GCB), Chattogram Container Terminal (CCT) and New Mooring Container Terminal (NCT).
After the opening of the Patenga terminal, the number of jetties has risen to 23.
The port can currently accommodate ships with a maximum of 9.5 metres of draft and 190 metres of length. The Patenga terminal will be able to accommodate ships with 10.5 metres of draft and 200 metres of length.
The new terminal, built on a 32-acre site, will be able to handle about 4.5 lakh TEUs of containers per year. The terminal has three containers and an oil unloading (dolphin) jetty. Four ships can be docked at a time there.
Tk1,229 has been spent on the construction of the new terminal, according to Mizanur Rahman, director of the Patenga Container Terminal project.
Initially, it was decided that the Patenga Container Terminal will be managed by the Chattogram Port Authority. Later it was decided to administer the terminal through a foreign operator under Public Private Partnership (PPP). But since the PPP was not finalised, the port authority has started operating the terminal on its own.
So far five foreign companies – AP Moller – Maersk of Denmark, Red Sea Gateway Terminal (RSGT) of Saudi Arabia, Dubai Port World (DP World) of the United Arab Emirates, Adani Port and Special Economic Zone Limited APSEZ of India and PSA International Singapore - have come forward with proposals to invest and operate the Patenga terminal.
Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), said, "The launch of the Patenga terminal is undoubtedly positive news for the country's import and export trade."
"However, if the operator recruitment process for the terminal gets delayed, we will not be able to reap its benefits. Therefore, the authorities must launch the terminal at 100% of its capacity as soon as possible," he added.