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Most of the imported goods – nearly ninety percent – reach to different parts of the country by waterways via Chittagong Port. Transportation of goods by waterways is substantially economical due to the fact that it costs one fourth or even less compared to other means of transportation. Cost-rates (freight) of water transport would vary greatly in the past, as there was lack of discipline in this sector. For instance in Dhaka-Chittagong route, the fare would rise as high as Taka 500-700 per ton in case of scarcity of vessels and this would come down to Taka 140-150 during availability. This would make it impossible to keep market rates of products and goods stable. Consequently, the consumers at the end of the supply-chain would suffer. Considering all this, a committee was formed for directing water transport in a order to bring in regulation in operations and fixing reasonable rates of transport cost. Starting to work systematically, it has later taken the formation of the Water Transport Cell (WTC). In accordance with the opinions of the Vessel Owners, Importers and other concerned parties, WTC is carrying out the operations with acceptable rates of transport costs and started to work as a coordinator among all stakeholders including the Importers, Vessel-Owners, Cargo Agents and Local Agents by providing other related services apart from ensuring stable transport rates of goods. For all concerned with water transport, WTC is presently performing as a One Stop Service Center.
WTC operates by some explicit regulations. Vessels interested to transport goods from Chittagong Port or off the Coast have to be enlisted into the roster maintained by WTC Daily berthing meeting takes place with these Vessels at the conference room of the WTC. In this meeting, Vessels are allotted form the roster as needed against the demand of the importers of goods. The demands so placed by the Cargo Agents on behalf of the Importers are usually listed by a process of lottery. WTC is directly involved with all issues and activities, as may be of interest to Vessel Owners and all other concerned parties, such as fares of the allotted Vessels, claiming demurrages as arise from delayed unloading, giving dispatch in case of early unloading following the roster while loading and unloading goods into the Vessels.
Importer are no longer to take extra worry for transportation of goods after the establishment of WTC. Proposition for paying additional fare does not bother them anymore. None has to lose sleep fearing whether Lighter would be available or not after importing corrosive goods like Salt, TSP, Fertilizer and Chemicals. Under the supervision of WTC, Owners/Agents of goods are facilitated with booking of ships for loading with any goods to send to the destination as per their need. Because of the pragmatic policies employed, hardly can a Lighter say, ‘I will not transport Salt or that cargo, or I will take Local Trips only and will not be in a Long Trip in Line.’ No opportunity is there anymore for anyone to take additional fare outside what is arbitrated by WTC. In a word, Lighter-Owner, Local Agent or Cargo Agent none has the scope for becoming overbearing.
Everyone in this sector is bound to transport goods as per rules and regulations and rates of transport costs formulated by WTC. Current rate of freight for transporting clinker from Chittagong to Dhaka is Tk. 427 per ton. Factories of Cement and Consumer Goods have contributed to the reduction of this fare by employing various unloading technologies, which ensure clearing of goods within appointed Free Time. Timely allotment of Vessels makes sure that Mother Vessels are doing away with demurrages while scarcity of Lighters in Chittagong has gone out of the window. From the beginning of operations of WTC, tradition of demurrages from the Mother Vessels has become almost non-existent; that is, in the absence of any other reason, Importers have freed themselves from counting demurrages in foreign currencies just for the unavailability of Lighters. Consequently, in addition to significant enhancement of reputation of Chittagong Port in the international market, a new horizon of parsimony for the country in spending valuable foreign currencies has opened up.
All Lighters die for carrying Clinker as it guarantees quick clearance at the unloading end. On the other hand, when it comes to goods like Wheat, which is supposed to be delayed in unloading, makes carrying them undesirable for everyone. In order to maintain evenness in such cases, regulation has been put in place so that Lighter-Owner gives dispatch to the Owner of the goods in case of clearance before the appointed Free Time, whereas the Owner of the goods is to give demurrage to the Lighter-Owner if unloading requires additional time. This removes unwillingness on the part of the Lighters in taking Trips to any destinations or carrying any sort of goods.
Importers of goods usually cut back dispatch while paying the freight but make long delays in paying demurrages of the Vessel. Vessel-Owners have long been hoping that the transactions resulting from dispatch-demurrage take place strait away. But the Owners of the goods are far less willing in paying demurrages but taking dispatch. As a result, the operations of WTC are up against a lot of impediments. This is in view of the fact that all payments of freight, demurrage and dispatch for the Lighter Vessels are taking place with mediation by WTC. WTC can pay freight to the Vessel Owners, dispatch to the Owner of goods – but it cannot pay demurrages to those Vessels that have been deprived of Trips due to being used as floating warehouse. So there has to be a way to get rid of this discrepancy with the Owners of goods making them to understand that the Lighter claiming demurrages have potentially saved them as much as five times demurrages against the Mother Vessels. Should they wake up to this reality, WTC could work more effectively for the welfare of the country in the interest of everybody concerned.
Apart from the operations as relates to transport of goods mentioned above,WTC takes part in quite a number of other activities for the betterment of the country. One of them is that WTC does not allot any Vessel for carrying goods without Survey Certificate attained by properly paying revenue to the Government. Accordingly, to escape payment of revenue to the Government or to move illegally without doing Survey is no longer possible for any Vessels if they want to carry goods. Though there were numerous Vessels devoid of Registration stayed afloat in the past, it is not the case anymore. There were abundant precedences before of carrying goods from Chittagong by Vessels lacking Registration or Survey but such cases have died down since the formation of WTC. However, responsibility of the WTC is restricted to confirming dates of the papers; it is not entitled to check fitness of the Vessels. Steps have been taken to enhance the quality and facilities of the Vessels. A new project has also been introduced to salvage any agrounded or submerged Vessel. WTC has now become the only means for economical and safe transportation of goods from Chittagong Outer Anchorage, Jetties or off the Coast to the country-wide different destinations.
Aside from Registration and Survey of Vessels, the other sector from which Government used to lose revenue was piloting. Government would typically be deprived of at least Taka 30 million every year. After a long discussion with the high-ups of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, WTC has taken over the responsibility of issuing pilot coupon fee for every Lighter. This has spreaded across entire Bangladesh. WTC has achieved a great success in this case as well. Up until July this year, WTC has paid the Government with Taka 130 million as revenue. Earning of revenue has doubtlessly exceeded Taka 35 million a year.
Activities of WTC as regards to managing the Laborers of the Vessels have also been carried out flawlessly. In a bid to bring in further clarity in this, WTC has recently embarked on a new work-plan, which includes issuing ID cards against the Seamen, to enhance the quality of service and attitudes on the part of the crews. Hopefully, this would enhance, by and large, the discipline and quality of service in the sector and deficiencies in transport of goods by Vessels would subside considerably.
Working of WTC is consequential in yet another respect. As for all disputes concerning transport of goods by Vessels, WTC resolves them through mutual agreement. WTC conducts this on the request of the accuser and the accused both. Scores of disagreements among two or more from the Importers of goods, Agents of goods, Vessel-Owners, Local-Agents, Vessel Crews corp up often involving loading of goods, delivery, transport fare, demurrage, damage done in collision between Vessels, troubles appearing from change of Agents etc. WTC settles these disputes acting as the Conciliator by the agreement of all and this helps to maintain overall order in the sector.