Loading and unloading of goods from the ships at outer anchorage of the Chattogram port and transportation of goods to other parts of the country through rivers has been halted since Friday morning as lighter vessel workers called for an indefinite strike.
Transportation of goods from the main seaport to other parts of the country through river routes also remained suspended due to the strike on a five-point demand.
"Until the demands are fulfilled, freight operation from Chattogram port through rivers will remain suspended," said Nabi Alam, vice president of Bangladesh Lighterage Workers Union.
The lighter vessel workers, at a rally under the banner of "vessel workers of all levels," in the port city's Bangla Bazar area on Thursday, announced the indefinite strike from Friday morning.
Their demands include removal of Chattogram Port Authority chairman, removal of the officer-in-charge of Patenga police station, cancelling the lease of Charpara ghat of the Karnaphuli River, surveying the lighter vessels by going to Parkir Char and creating a safe harbour for lighter vessels by excavating the Sangu River estuary.
Jasim Uddin, acting general secretary of Bangladesh Lighterage Workers Union, said since Charpara Ghat has been leased, the people of the leaseholders have been harassing the lighter vessel workers in various ways. People of leaseholders had beaten up some nine workers on 3 November, and the police didn't take any action against it.
The aggrieved workers urged the port authorities to cancel the lease of the Charpara ghat but they didn't take any action in this regard.
Protesting the incident, workers moved all the lighter vessels to Parkir Char and started using the Chinese Ghat to get on and off the vessels but the authorities evicted that jetty too, he said.
Later, the aggrieved workers staged a protest rally in the port city and called for halting the loading and unloading of goods from the ships.
Md Omar Faruk, secretary to the Chittagong Port Authority, said Charpara ghat has been leased so that the workers can board the boats safely using the ghat and any vessel cannot take extra passengers on board.
Besides, workers and passengers were passing through the Chinese ghat without the permission of the port which is illegal. So, it has been evicted, he added.
About 1,600 lighterage ships transport more than six crore tonnes of goods through waterways of the country every year. The goods include raw materials of cement, ceramics and steel industries, fertilisers, coal and consumer goods.
Due to the suspension of goods transportation by lighterage vessels, transportation of goods from Chattogram to other parts of the country through rivers has been stopped, hampering businesses of the whole country.