Dhaka, Sunday, 17 January 2021

Port performance leaves much to be desired

Port performance leaves much to be desired

Staff Correspondent : The poor rating given by the World Bank, in general, of the sea ports in the South Asian region in terms of their performance is quite disquieting. For Bangladesh, it is only more so because the lone busy port of Chittagong handling 80 per cent of its export-import cargoes lags behind its South-Asian counterparts. The first disadvantage of Chittagong and Mongla ports is that no container mother vessel can berth there. Such mother vessels carrying10,000-20,000 containers simply do not call at any of these two ports.

Only the feeder vessels maintain the link between Chittagong/Mongla and Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka where such ships stay anchored. This drawback owing to shallow depths in the channels is, however, no excuse for lower efficiency in cargo handling. India and Pakistan are performing better in this regard. But it is Sri Lanka which beats its South Asian neighbours in handling containers.

One of the most significant reasons cited by the World Bank report is lack of private investment, whereas India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka could ensure the private sector’s participation in developing facilities and operation. Those countries went for reform in order to make the operational and economic performance more competitive. No such role is being played by the private sector in the area of container service at the Chittagong Port, let alone Mongla Port. Chittagong Port handles more than 90 per cent of the country’s container traffic. So it is only natural that the overburdened port keeps ships and cargoes waiting both at the jetty and at the outer anchorage. Today more than 40 per cent goods are shipped in containers the world over.

The country’s prime port could take greater advantage of the development, even without the mother vessels’ arrival, if only facilities were created and competition fuelled among stake-holders -both private and public. When private sector’s participation is non-existent or minimal, it is futile to expect such a competition.

If India and Pakistan have slightly improved the performance of their ports, they also leave much room for further improvement. Regionally, South Asia falls back in comparison with other regions like East Asia. This is against the economic tide of this region. The channels of export-import are not simply matching the impressive growth of economies in South Asia. One has to take into account of the high cost the region is paying for import and export of its goods and commodities as a result of inefficiency at ports and consequent poor capacity of container handling.

The World Bank has focused on this issue of costing. By matching Sri Lanka’s port performances, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan could bring down the shipping costs by 9.0 per cent at the best. This is very important because by doing so, the three countries could add up to 7.0 per cent value to their export. This value addition would have been impressive enough to boost their economic growth. But Sri Lanka has not set the benchmark for performance at ports. Other nations in the East Asia are even better at doing so. Had their examples been emulated and performance matched, the economic benefit would have been even far greater.