About a month ago, an army team was patrolling inside the port when a cargo truck hit the patrol car at the junction of General Cargo Berth (GCB) and Chittagong Container Terminal (CCT), injuring seven soldiers.
Soon after it was found that the driver's assistant or helper was driving the vehicle at the time of the incident.
What usually happens is that after entering the port area, the truck drivers leave the port, handing the vehicles over to their assistants as it takes a long time to take delivery of goods.
This was not the only accident caused by helpers driving trucks inside the port. A total of 15 such accidents have occurred in the last 2 years, killing at least 8 people and crippling many others for life.
Port security has become increasingly vulnerable as unskilled assistants continue to drive goods-carrying vehicles in the reserved and busiest areas of the port, according to the Chittagong Port Authority.
About 92% of the country's import and export trade is completed through Chittagong port.
Some 25-30,000 people enter the port every day, including workers engaged in cargo handling, C&F agents, shipping agents, freight forwarding agents, customs officials, terminal operators, berth operators, vehicle drivers, and port staff.
Nearly 7,000 vehicles, including trucks, covered vans, and prime movers enter the port premises every day for various purposes, such as goods transportation to and from the port.
Other types of vehicles, including cranes, ply the port yards and jetty for container handling and transporting staff and officials. In addition, export cargo containers come to the port from 19 private inland container depots (ICDs).
Needless to say, a little carelessness can lead to major accidents in such a busy place.
Officials of Chittagong port said that even one accident can turn into a massive safety issue for the port. There is no way to avoid it as a mere accident. If a family takes legal action because of an accident, it becomes a security issue.
"Vehicles driven by drivers' assistants are responsible for most accidents and fatalities. This is creating a negative impact on the safety and security of the port," Director (Security) of Chittagong Port Lt Col Mostafa Arif-ur Rahman Khan said, adding that it is extremely worrying when truck helpers use the port yards as their training ground.
Chittagong Port adheres to the ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) code. Since 2004, the port is implementing the code gradually.
To ensure security as per the code, the port authority has registered about 1 lakh people with biometric identification for entering the port. Among them there are about 80,000 drivers and assistants.
In developed seaports around the world, container delivery activities do not take place inside the port as it happens in Chittagong port. Moreover, Chittagong port takes more load than its capacity.
After the army patrol team was injured, the port security issued a verbal order on 25 July barring drivers from leaving the port premises until goods are delivered.
The move agitated the drivers and assistants. They protested by suspending vehicle movement. Delivery operations were suspended for several hours, creating long tailbacks on the roads.
In the face of protests, the port authorities were forced to withdraw this decision. However, the authorities said that a notice will be issued in this regard within a week.
According to transport owners, drivers and helpers, it takes 10 to 28 hours for vehicles to load or unload shipments at the port and there is no facility for drivers to rest, eat and do the necessary work at the port.
Chowdhury Zafar Ahmed, secretary general of Bangladesh Covered Van-Truck Prime Mover Goods Transport Owners' Association, said, "There is no limit to how long it will take for vehicles to leave the port with goods. So drivers are forced to go out with their accomplices. Nevertheless, this is not good for port security. We expect goods to be delivered quickly after entering the port."