The container ship Spica J will leave Chattogram for Rotterdam port in the Netherlands this week, introducing a new direct freight route between Bangladesh and the northwestern European country.
This will be the fourth direct shipping service from Chattogram since February this year, with businessmen saying that direct shipments will open up new horizons for external trade amid a global supply chain shock.
Reliance Shipping and Logistics, the local shipping agent of the latest freight route, said three vessels will be carrying goods. After reaching the Netherlands from Chattogram, the vessels will sail for Barcelona, Spain.
"Spica J is now at the outer anchorage of Chattogram port. It will leave Bangladesh on 31 May or 1 June with 500 TEUs [twenty-foot equivalent units] of exporting goods," Mohammad Rashed, chairman of the shipping agent, told The Business Standard.
Currently, container ships from Chattogram go to transshipment ports such as Malaysia's Tanjung Pelepas or Klang, Singapore, Colombo or China before heading towards the European countries. The export consignments reach the destination via base ports such as Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg in Europe. The entire journey takes around 40 days, while the freight cost for each container hovers around $12,000.
But direct shipping to the Netherlands will slash the time to 20 days, while freight cost will also be reduced by 20%-30%.
Syed Mohammad Arif, chairman of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents' Association, said direct shipping with Europe is very positive for the country's economy. "Increased freight traffic will prompt competition among shipping companies, leading to a reduced freight charge. Businessmen have already started reaping the benefits of direct shipping on three routes."
On 7 February this year, the first direct shipping from Chattogram port commenced, introducing the Chattogram-Italy route. The service was launched by the Italian freight forwarder RifLine. The company has so far imported and exported goods six times by four ships, with each trip taking 18-20 days.
Abul Kalam Azad, director of RifLine, said the container ship Cape Flores will reach Chattogram port on 8 June. On its next voyage, the vessel will carry goods to Turkey as well as Italy.
On 20 May, the London-based freight forwarder Allseas Global Logistics launched the Chattogram-Rotterdam-Liverpool route. Through the service, ships carrying export goods from Chattogram will first go to Rotterdam port in the Netherlands via the Suez Canal. After the unloading, the ships will go to the port of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. Vessels on the route will also carry imported goods to Chattogram.
Captain Syed Sohel Hasnat, chief executive officer of Phoenix Shipping Limited, a local representative of Allseas Global Logistics, said the direct freight service can deliver goods to the UK within 23 days. It takes about 35-40 days to reach the UK via transshipment ports in Singapore or Colombo.
On 24 May, the Chattogram-China-Hong Kong direct container cargo route was introduced by the Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Company. Four vessels are operating on the route as two more ships are to join the fleet soon.
Rear Admiral M Shahjahan, chairman of the Chattogram Port Authority, said several other countries have also expressed interest in signing direct shipping contracts. These include Portugal, Slovenia and some Middle Eastern nations. Direct container shipping in the three routes will begin soon.
Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said direct freights with European countries have created huge potential for external trade. "This is a great achievement for Bangladesh, and the authorities must ensure that this service is not disrupted."
Chattogram port accounts for 92% of Bangladesh's external trade. It also handles 98% of the country's container shipments.