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Chittagong seaport sees Covid-induced decline in container traffic

The container traffic at the Chittagong port contracted by approximately 6.0 per cent in 2020 as the Covid-19 rattled movement.

The country’s main sea port witnessed the negative growth of containers for the first time since the late 1970s.

The maritime facility handled a total of 2.8 million 20-foot equivalent units in the year ending December 31, of them 1.5 million were import containers and the remaining 1.3 million export carriers.

It handled a total of 3.0 million containers in 2019. The port usually records double-digit growth, except for single-digit expansion in some years.

The port handles more than 92 per cent of the country’s foreign trade worth around US$100 billion dollars. And the contraction means that the whole economy was impacted by the pandemic. This is used as proxy indicators for measuring economic growth.

Officials at the traffic department at the CPA told the FE that both export and import were poor during the second and third quarter of the year, which is now picking up gradually.

They said the imports of luxury goods such as toys were poor in the year.

However, shipping circle people believe this is mainly because of the Covid-19, but the ongoing global container crisis is another reason.

They said the shipping sector suffered much during April and May when the average monthly handling slumped to less than 50 per cent.

Import also nosedived in May, dipping by over 31 per cent to US$ 3.5 billion, according to Bangladesh Bank.

They said the volume of loaded shipment was nearly 50,000 TEUs (20-foot equipment units) in June last, up by 7,000 TEUs from May

“Chittagong port usually handles around 120,000-130,000 TEUs a month, but in April and June it was around 50,000 each month”, said Captain AS Chowdhury, country head of Singapore-based feeder service provider Seacon.

He said, “Our vessels even left the port taking much less export boxes during the period.”

“We predict that Bangladesh’s economy will not pick up in the first quarter of 2021”, he said.

Shipping executives report the country’s trade to their parent organisaitons through opinion survey with their customers.

In the meantime, many vessels withdrew their services to and from Chattogram in 2020 as they got less than expected bookings for their fleets.

French-shipping giant CMA-CGM had postponed its services to and from Chattogram in 2020 before resuming services recently.

Cosco Shipping, a Chinese shipping giant, has recently postponed its service to and from Chattogram and it has stopped taking booking from Europe meant for Chattogram.

Qatar-based shipping operator Milaha Maritime has discontinued its services to and from Chittagong in 2020.

The international shipping line suspended its services, compelled by higher stay time of vessels at the Chittagong port.

Bangladesh’s export and import fell in 2020 in the aftermath of Covid-19.

The import, which is necessary both for consumption and industrial purposes, has yet to gain pace.

Bangladesh Bank statistics show that July-November import contracted to nearly 9.0 per cent, though export rose during the period by nearly 1.0 per cent over corresponding period.

Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chairman at the Chittagong-based BSM Group said, “Even our own import of essential goods was around 15 per cent less in 2020”.

Mr. Chowdhury, one of the leading commodity importers, said his firm is in the dilemma as the high freight charges triggered the container crisis.
Source: Financial Express

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