Traders in Chattogram were quite upbeat when Bangladesh and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2021 to launch direct coastal shipping services between Chattogram and Ranong ports. It would save time and cost, they thought.
But much to their frustration the initiative has yet to be implemented.
Chattogram Port Authority Secretary Omor Faruk told The Business Standard that the issue of direct shipping between the two ports is under the foreign affairs ministry.
Direct shipping through the Chattogram-Ranong route can be launched after the ministry’s final nod, said sources at the Chattogram Port Authority.
The facility will reduce the transit time between the two ports from 10 days to three days, and cut shipping cost by around 30%, said people involved in this sector.
According to the Bangladesh Shipping Agents’ Association, Bangladeshi goods are currently transported to Thailand through transshipment ports such as Singapore, Port Kelang in Malaysia, and Colombo in Sri Lanka.
At present, the shipping cost from Chattogram to Ranong port is $700 per container.
Traders have expressed their disappointment over not launching direct shipping between the two countries even around one and a half years after signing the MoU, saying the faster the goods can be transported on this route, the more the Bangladesh businesses will benefit.
Syed Mohammad Arif, chairman of the Bangladesh Shipping Agents’ Association, told TBS, “Launching direct shipping services between Chattogram and Ranong will create significant trade potential. Direct transportation of goods by ships has already been started with various European countries, which has reduced time and import cost.
“The same possibility exists for direct shipping between Bangladesh and Thailand.”
Bangladeshi ships also transport goods from Chattogram to Kolkata and Chennai ports in India under a coastal shipping agreement. The distance from Chattogram to Chennai by sea is 1,114 nautical miles, while from Chattogram to Ranong it is 1,220 nautical miles. Local freight companies are capable of operating ships on the Chattogram-Ranong route, said people involved in this sector.
Shahikul Islam, executive director of Marine Trust Limited, which is involved in transporting goods to and from India under a coastal shipping agreement, told TBS, “Launching direct shipping between Chattogram and Ranong ports will create a new market for shippers.”
Ships with a 7-metre draught and a capacity of 10,000 tonnes or 700 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) should be operated on the route. Local private companies can easily operate ships on this route, he added.
Captain AS Chowdhury, secretary general of the Bangladesh Container Shipping Association, said to launch direct shipping between Chattogram and Ranong ports, authorities have to discuss the scope of Bangladesh’s business with Thailand and the initiative’s success. Along with container ships, bulk carriers can also operate on this route.
According to sources at Chattogram port, Zafar Alam, then member of the Chattogram Port Authority, and Dr Chamnan Chairith, an official of the Port Authority of Thailand, signed the MoU on 20 December 2021.
At that time, Bangladesh and Thailand port officials said the agreement would help strengthen trade and investment between Bangladesh, Thailand, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka under Bimstec.
Bangladesh exports jute products to Thailand, while imports pulses, gypsum, tyres, fruits, dry fruits, footwear items, readymade garments etc from that country, said people involved in shipping businesses.