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DoS to review WTC activities

Saleh Noman
09 Dec 2021 00:00:00 | Update: 09 Dec 2021 09:08:55
DoS to review WTC activities
Goods containers are piled up at the Chattogram port – Rajib Dhar Photo

The Department of Shipping (DoS) has decided to review Water Transportation Cell (WTC) activities, the controlling authority of lighter ships engaged in transporting goods via waterways from Chittagong Port.

Importers and the WTC had been at loggerheads over goods transportation from the port’s outer anchorage. Importers have accused the WTC of holding the inland shipping system hostage.

A recent order by the Bangladesh Competition Commission (BCC) following a complaint by BSRM, the leading steel manufacturer in the country, has again sparked debate over the activities of WTC, which ships almost 70 per cent of goods from Chittagong Port.

“Steps will be taken regarding WTC activities following BCC’s ruling,” Md Manjurul Kabir, chief engineer of DoS, said.

WTC is playing a role in maintaining order in transportation via waterways. The DoS affiliated body allocates ships daily based on the needs of importers. WTC controls about 1,700 out of about 2,200 ships in the country.

In a recent directive, the BCC said anybody who wants to hire lighter vessels from the open market should be allowed to do so and the Ministry of Shipping (MoS) and the DoS may take necessary measures to ensure competition in hiring vessels from the open market.

Usually, importers cannot enter into direct agreements with ship owners but have to hire ships from WTC to transport goods from Chittagong Port.

“This method is not compatible with the free market system, which is why importers have repeatedly raised objections, the same issue we have raised with the Competition Commission and sought redress,” said Sanjay Kumar Ghosh, head of supply chain of BSRM.

“We have had problems in supplying products to some of the government’s mega projects following the WTC rules,” he said. “We want to talk to the owners based on supply and demand and hire a ship directly, which is not possible now.”

Kabir from the shipping department said that hiring a ship from WTC to transport goods from Chittagong Port was not mandatory.

The BCC’s order also calls for the rent of ships to be fixed on a competitive basis so that no one can enforce a monopoly.

WTC Executive Director Mahabub Rashid said the ship owners implemented a system based on negotiation among themselves, subject to the government’s approval, which is also prevalent in other transport sectors of the country.

“Ship owners are satisfied with the system and there’s no monopoly here,” he said, adding that anyone can rent a ship from outside and ship owners can operate their ships separately out of WTC.

The fare for transporting per tonne goods by river from Chittagong Port to Dhaka is Tk 415. But many importers, like the Bangladesh Cement Manufacturers Association (BCMA), have demanded that the rent be reduced to Tk 350.

WTC increased fare by Tk 60 per ton, about 15 per cent of the existing fare, after a hike in diesel prices.

After a month-long dispute, WTC has recently reached an understanding with the BCMA over goods transportation. According to the agreement, the importers of raw materials of the cement factory will be able to transport the goods using their ships. If necessary, WTC ships can also be used.