After a hiatus of nearly three months, exports of hydrogen peroxide resumed through Chattogram port in August, heralding a positive change in the chemical sector.
The export of hydrogen peroxide, a chemical widely used by textile and pharmaceutical industries, from Bangladesh came to a standstill after the explosion and fire incident at the BM Container Depot in Chattogram on 4 June.
Following the incident, the major shipping lines, also known as Main Line operators (MLOs), refused to transport the chemicals citing safety issues, forcing the inland container depots (ICDs) in Chattogram to send the stored products back to the respective factories.
Exports, however, resumed in the last week of August and about 5,000 tonnes of hydrogen peroxide have been exported by various companies through Chittagong port since then.
Although there are 19 private ICDs in Chattogram, only Chattogram Container Transportation Company Ltd (CCTCL) is currently exporting the chemical while other depots are expected to join gradually.
CCTCL Manager (Admin) Shahidul Islam said, "Hydrogen peroxide containers are being loaded at our depot since the last week of August following all safety and regulations. So far, about 250 containers, carrying 5,000 tonnes, have been shipped to various destinations."
When asked why other ICDs are lagging behind in export, MdMahinulHoque, senior general manager of Summit Alliance Port Limited (SAPL), said, "We want to start hydrogen peroxide stuffing as soon as possible but a uniform standard operating procedure (SOP) is required in all depots for that. Once SOP is confirmed, container stuffing will begin."
With the resumption of shipments, investors in the hydrogen peroxide export sector, who receive a 10% subsidy from the government, have breathed a sigh of relief.
According to industry insiders, the export volume will grow in size and return to normal once all the depots start receiving the chemical for shipment.
Bangladesh has been exporting hydrogen peroxide for 20 years. The chemical, produced in eight factories in the country, is exported to 14 countries, including Vietnam, China, Korea, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and South Africa.
Major exporters are Meghna Group's Tasnim Chemical Complex Ltd, Samuda Chemical Complex Ltd, SM Chemicals Ltd, HP Chemicals Ltd, Infinia Chemical Company Ltd, and Al-Razi Chemical Complex Ltd.
Meghna Group's Deputy General Manager Mohammad Mizan told the Business Standard (TBS), "Before the ban, we used to export about 6,000 tonnes of hydrogen peroxide per month. We have been able to export about 500 tonnes through the CCTCL depot. As all depots are not receiving the product yet, we are not able to deliver despite having many export orders."
"Previously, we used to export 4,000-4,500 tonnes of hydrogen peroxide per month. Last month, we exported 3,500 tonnes. However, most of these have been exported to India by road. We are hoping that the export volume will increase as more depots start receiving this product," said Samuda Chemical's Head of Business BikashKanti Das.
Al-Razi Chemicals, owned by Smart Group, which also owns BM Container Depot in Sitakunda, also started exporting hydrogen peroxide some three weeks ago.
The company's Executive Director Captain MainulHasan, however, could not confirm the export volume.
Along with export, the import of other chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, has started. After Singapore Port lifted its ban on the transportation of hydrogen peroxide on 10 August, shipping lines began transporting the chemical on ships, said shipping agents, adding that chemical products are being stored strictly following the rules.
Bangladesh Shipping Agents Association Senior Vice-Chairman Syed Iqbal Ali Shimul said, "There is no obstacle to the export and storage of hydrogen peroxide. All depots should start container stuffing by followinggovernment guidelines."
NurulQayyum Khan, president of Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association, an organisation of ICD owners, told TBS, "Like other export products, hydrogen peroxide stuffing was done in all ICDs. However, since the BM depot incident, the stuffing of this product has not yet started fully in the depots."
According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), Bangladesh exported hydrogen peroxide worth $13.9 million in 2020.
Bangladesh ranks 17th in the export of this chemical worldwide. It is the 89th most exported product in the country.
Bangladesh also ranks 65th in terms of importing hydrogen peroxide from other countries. In 2020, the country imported this chemical, worth $656,000, mostly from Thailand, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea and India.
As many as 51 people were killed in the explosion and subsequent fire at the BM Container Depot while more than 200 were injured.