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Colombo port resumes operations

Operations and navigation at the Port of Colombo resumed yesterday following a two-day hiatus for ongoing political unrest in Sri Lanka, albeit bringing temporary relief to Bangladesh's exporters, freight forwarders and shipping firms.

Apprehensions remain as the island nation is still going through turmoil.

Stakeholders believe any future disruption would badly hit Bangladesh's foreign trade, especially exports, since almost 50 per cent of export cargoes pass through this transshipment hub.

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Nationwide clashes led to the prime minister and his cabinet to resign on Monday, following which trade union workers at two container terminals embarked on a strike, halting loading and unloading of cargo. All vessel movement at the port remained suspended since Tuesday.

That day the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents conveyed their deep concern to the chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

The platform, comprising 135 members representing all shipping lines calling on Sri Lankan ports, in a letter requested to convince the trade unions to resume operations.

The stalemate generated anxiety among the six feeder vessel operators currently plying at least 22 ships on the Chattogram-Colombo route.

MTT Singapore, a vessel carrying around 500 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit) of export containers from Chattogram, was able to berth at a jetty on Monday but since then was forced to remain idle.

An official of the ship's Bangladeshi agent, Sea Consortium Bangladesh, informed that it could not make its scheduled departure on Tuesday as there were containers left to be unloaded.

There are now 16 vessels waiting for berthing around Colombo.

One of them, SOL Promise, left Chattogram a few days back and reached the outer anchorage of Colombo yesterday morning.

Muntasir Rubayat, head of operations of the ship's local agent, GBX Logistics, told The Daily Star that it could have availed berthing by evening had it been a normal working day.

Instead, the vessel was having to queue behind others which had arrived earlier.

A major portion of Bangladesh's exports, mainly apparel, which are destined for Europe and the US pass through four transshipment ports.

Feeder vessels reach the cargo to mother vessels at the four – the Port of Colombo, Port of Singapore and Malaysian ports of Port Klang and Tanjung Pelepas.

In the past four months till April, a total of 2,85,464 TEUs of export-laden containers were transported from the Chattogram port through these four transshipment ports.

Of it, around 48.7 percent went through the Port of Colombo.

Every month 30 to 35 round trips are operated by the feeder vessels on the Chattogram-Colombo route.

According to the sector's stakeholders, Bangladeshi apparel exporters in recent years have been preferring using the Port of Colombo to avail the minimum lead time and freight costs.

Prolonged disruptions will delay reaching cargo to destination countries and increase costs, said Rubayat of GBX Logistics, the local agent of Singapore-based feeder operator Straits Orient Lines.

Nasiruddin Ahmed, former first vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, echoed him.

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