Chittagong Port

Chittagong Port the principal sea port of Bangladesh, is situated in the estuary of the karnafuli River, which originates in the hills north-east of the chittagong hill tracts and flows into the bay of bengal. The main significance of this port lie in the fact that it provides a deep-water anchorage a few miles inland from the sea. The steering distance is 16 kilometres from the outer bar on the Bay of Bengal to the main berths on the bank of the river Karnafuli.

Chittagong Port

The location of the port and its natural harbour made it an important centre of trade and business as far back as the 9th century AD when the Arab merchants found it to be a lucrative centre for trade. By the beginning of the 15th century, the port of Chittagong was an important trading centre. Chinese chronicler ma huan, who visited Chittagong in 1405 with a Chinese mission, refers to 'Chit-le-gan' as a port frequented by Chinese trading vessels. The most frequent visitors to the port were the Arabs.

Among the Europeans, the portuguese were the first to arrive at Chittagong. The Portuguese tried twice, without success to capture Chittagong, first in 1517 under John de Silviera and again in 1527 under Alfonso-de-Millo.

Finally they secured it and Satgoan, from Mahmud Shah the ruler of Bengal, in return for helping him against sher shah Sur. Under the Portuguese, Chittagong prospered and became a commercial centre acquiring the title of 'Porto Grande', the great port, as opposed to Satgoan, the 'Porto Pequene'. In 1665-66 shaista khan, the Mughal Viceroy of Bengal advanced on the port and took it by storm.

By that time, the east india company had opened their first factory at hughli in 1651. However, they were not content for long with the position of mere traders, they aspired to acquire a fortified base at Chittagong. The question therefore was where to site this base. They tried to make their base. An expedition was sent to capture Chittagong during the Anglo-Mughal War (1686-1690) but it failed.

Chittagong continued for another hundred years in the hands of the land-based Mughal rulers of Bengal. Nawab Mir Qasim finally ceded Chittagong to the English in 1760. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Calcutta gradually developed into the premier port of Bengal, while Chittagong found itself relegated to the secondary position of a feeder port. The relative shift in importance and government attention was evident in the singular absence of any significant port facilities in Chittagong when the Chittagong Port Trust came into being in 1888.

The first attempt to develop an administrative and policy making system for the port of Chittagong was taken in 1887 when a Port Trust was created under the Chittagong Port Commissioner's Act of that year. After a false start in 1887 the Port Trust was lawfully constituted by the Bengal Government notifications Nos. 35 and 36 Marine of 15 May 1888 for the management of the affairs of the Port. The Chittagong Port Commissioner's Act of 1887 provided for nine Commissioners, six to be nominated by the local government and three to be elected by a nominated electorate consisting of local firms nominated by the Bengal Government with the previous sanction of the Governor General in Council. Commissioners were to serve for a period of two years. All six nominated members were Europeans; the three elected members were Indians. The composition of the board changed considerably over the years, in part because of the introduction of more officials into the group of nominated members, but the European dominance remained unchallenged and indeed was strengthened by changes in the electorate nominated by government. The Chittagong Port Commissioner's Act of 1887 gave only limited powers to the Commissioners while placing the Port Trust under the dual administrative and financial control of the Government of India and the Government of Bengal.

All acts and proceedings of the Commissioners were subject to the approval of the Local Government who could cancel, suspend or modify any act or proceeding. In 1903, the control and administration of the jetties was made over to the assam bengal railway. Henceforth the division of authority between the Port Trust, responsible for the conservancy of the river and movement of shipping, and the Railway Company, in charge of the jetties of ocean going vessels and the foreshore facilities, created administrative difficulties. The administration was also seriously hampered by the presence on the Port Trust board of so many members who could not devote much time and energy to its affair.

The Chairman of the Port Commissioners, who was responsible for the running of the Port Trust, was the Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong, the multifarious nature of whose work demanded that the day-to-day administration of the port be left to someone else. Prior to the formation of the Port Trust in 1888 an officer who was both Customs Collector and Port Officer carried out the administrative work of the port of Chittagong.

To do away with the dual administration of Port Railway and Port Commissioners, the Port Trust was reconstituted on the 1 July 1960 as a semi-autonomous body under the provisions of the Chittagong Port Act of 1914 and as amended by an Ordinance promulgated in 1960. With the birth of Bangladesh in 1971 the trade of the port expanded greatly. To cope with the rapid development and expansion of the port, the Government of Bangladesh promulgated the Chittagong Port Authority Ordinance in 1986 and dissolved the Port Trust. Henceforth the management of the Port came under the Chittagong Port Authority. This Authority consists of a Chairman and three other Members. The Chairman is the executive head. The Chittagong Port Authority is under the Ministry of Shipping.

Port facilities' In the later half of the 19th century, the port commissioners of Chittagong owned only one jetty for passengers, and a few small jetties for landing salt. They had no pontoon and no crane. They had no storehouse, even for their own material, much of which stayed in the open. There were no wharves, public or private at Chittagong. The single iron jetty, which existed, was built in 1879 in Sadar Ghat. This jetty was practically of no use, as it did not extend into a sufficient depth of water to be used by ocean going vessels, or even coasters. Four salt jetties were built in 1891 opposite the government Salt Golas or storehouses. They were very minor works. Even so, the construction of the four salt jetties was a great boon. Previously, persons engaged in handling and shipping salt had to wade up to their waist in mud.

At the time of the formation of the Chittagong Port Trust in 1888 it had been pointed out that the principal improvements required in the port were: lighting the approaches to the port and the removal of the Ring buoy shoal; the acquisition of the foreshore land and the construction of a strand road; the establishment of telegraphic communications with the mouth of the river; the provision of a steam tug; and the appointment of medical staff and increased hospital accommodation.

From the list it appears that the Government of Bengal had proposed to develop the port of Chittagong only as a minor coastal port. No reference was made to the construction of jetties or to the dredging of the inner and outer bars, which were major obstacles to the navigation of the river Karnafuli. Removal of the Ring buoy shoal was indeed proposed, but the Ring buoy was upstream near the Sadar Ghat jetty, which was then not even fit to handle coastal vessels.

Two developments of great significance contributed substantially to change this state of affairs. One was the decision by the Government of India to build a railway connecting the tea gardens of Assam to the port of Chittagong and the other was the Partition of Bengal, 1905 and the creation of the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam.

The area lying east of the river meghna comprised, in administrative terms, the districts of Chittagong, Noakhali, Tippera, Sylhet, Cachar, Hill Tippera and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. These districts in 1891 had a population of 5, 554, 147 and a total area of 24,090 square miles and were rich in jute, rice and tea. But in spite of the fact that the area was populous and fertile it did not have a single mile of railway. For many years the only railway in the Chittagong division was the tramway worked by hand, which for a mile and a half traversed the portage beside the rapids or falls in the Karnafuli near Barkal. As a result, not withstanding the fact that Chittagong was the natural outlet for the produce of Eastern Bengal and Assam, there was a large amount of produce seeking a better outlet than the existing port conditions allowed.

The need to connect the hinterland of Chittagong with its port had attracted attention from time to time. As far back as 1873 the Collector of Customs at Chittagong had emphasised the need for the improvement of inland transit by land or water. Nothing however was done in this respect.

With the growth and development of jute trade in Eastern Bengal from the middle of the 19th century, the government of Bengal was approached by the merchants to survey the river Meghna and declare it safe for navigation, so as to enable sea-borne vessels from Indian and foreign ports to have access to Narayanganj in order to trade in the products grown in the eastern regions. The government of Bengal having found the navigation of the river Meghna much too difficult for ships from Britain declared Chittagong as the most convenient port for the shipment of the produce of eastern districts, the produce being sent down the Meghna to Chittagong in flats towed by light draught river steamers.

The proposal to use the port of Chittagong once raised, led to further investigations and discussions and in 1881 a railway from Chittagong to Daudkandi was instead seriously considered. Early in 1882, the Commissioners of both Dhaka and Chittagong submitted reports strongly favouring the construction of such a railway. That same year the lieutenant governor of Bengal, expressed the opinion that a railway connecting Chittagong with its hinterland, if constructed, would be second to none in Bengal in importance. In June 1882, the Government of Bengal placed before the Government of India a scheme for the construction of a railway line from Chittagong to Chandpur instead of Daudkandi.

At almost the same period the government of India was also discussing the importance of opening out the Brahmaputra Valley by the building of a railway system. Three options were considered. The first was the construction of a railway line connecting the Brahmaputra Valley with the Northern Bengal Railway. But the formidable streams draining into the Brahmaputra, which would have had to be bridged and trained in order to do so, prevented the adoption of this plan. Next the proposal to construct a railway from a point opposite Goalundo through Dhaka to Mymensingh led the authorities to assess the feasibility of extending such a Dhaka-Mymensingh line across the Garo Hills into the Brahamputra Valley. The third possibility was introduced by the discussion of an Eastern Bengal-Chittagong railway already noted.

It was JW Buyers, at that time Engineer-in-Chief of the railway survey operations in the Brahmaputra Valley, who in 1882 suggested the extension of the line from the port of Chittagong through Eastern Bengal across the north Cachar Hills into the Brahmapurtra Valley. He pointed out certain definite advantages of Chittagong over the port of Calcutta. He anticipated that trade will gravitate towards Chittagong and for that purpose considered the connection with that seaport an important point in favour of the scheme.

From 1882 the construction of a railway from Chittagong to Assam received the serious attention of the Government of India. In the course of the investigations in 1885, 1886 and 1887, the advantages of connecting the Brahmaputra Valley with the port of Chittagong were found to be so obvious that in May 1891 the Government of India gave sanction for the construction of a line from Upper Assam to the port of Chittagong. The needs both of Eastern Bengal and of Assam, therefore, led to the construction of the Assam Bengal Railway.

Thus, it may be said that the railway line was constructed in response to three major considerations: to facilitate the trade of Eastern Bengal by giving it communication with the port nearest to it; to develop the valley of the Brahmaputra by making it more accessible by land; and to facilitate further development of the tea industry of Brahmaputra Valley and of Sylhet and Cachar, by diminishing its total dependence on the lengthy water route to Calcutta.

The Assam Bengal Company immediately after its formation pointed out to the Government of India the need for adequate and permanent landing facilities at the port of Chittagong. With this demand from the Railway authorities were set in motion forces which eventually led to the acquisition of foreshore land, the construction of jetties and other allied facilities necessary for a port to accommodate ocean-going steamers.

Section 19 of the Chittagong Port Commissioners Act of 1887 invested the Port Commissioners with powers to acquire land to build wharves and jetties. It was however not till the advent of the Assam Bengal Railway Company, after almost four years, that the Port Commissioners awoke to the fact that they had no foreshore land on which to build sea-going jetties. In August 1892 therefore the Trust applied to the Government of Bengal to sanction the acquisition of a plot of land on the western bank of the river Karnafuli measuring about 1066.8m in length and 201.16m in breadth for the erection of jetties and warehouses.

The Commissioners, however, pointed out that the land asked for will only berth four vessels and that it was advisable to acquire without delay, an extensive river frontage and asked for a larger grant of loan. In the mean time the consulting engineer for the railway had also sent a proposal to the Government for the issue of a notice to acquire a section of foreshore land about 2438.4m in length and 457.2m' in width. On the receipt of these proposals the Government of Bengal appointed a committee in February 1893 to report on the most suitable arrangements to be made in Chittagong for landing and shipping goods. This Committee, in May 1893, suggested that jetty room for at least six ships (152.4m for each) should be provided and that the land required for the joint needs of the Port and Railway should extend in length from the Double Mooring jetty to the mouth of the Guptakhali Khal (a distance of around 7 km), about 700 m.

The Government of Bengal in reporting the Committee's finding to the Government of India expressed the opinion that the Port Trust should own the whole of the foreshore, wharves and jetties at Chittagong and should control the warehousing and landing and shipping of goods there, providing the Railway Company with suitable access and facilities.

While the working arrangements of the jetties were being discussed, the first jetty was constructed at the Double Mooring and was opened in 1899. The Government of Bengal approved the erection of a second jetty in May 1902. The jetty came into full use in 1904-05.

In the mean time the Assam Bengal Railway Company convinced the Government of India that the ownership and control of the port jetties should be transferred to the railway and the jetties were transferred to the railway on 27 March 1903. The Government of India however retained the right to resume the jetties. With the transfer of the jetties to the railways in 1903 the history of the port of Chittagong entered a new phase. For if the transfer assisted the working of the railway, it was to prove very deleterious to the development of the port. The port of Chittagong from then on became more or less the commercial monopoly of the Railway Company with the Port Commissioners having little or no say over its day-to-day operations.

With the partition of Bengal in 1905 began the most significant period in the history of the port during the British period. Previous to the partition, lord curzon, the then Viceroy of India, in order to win support for the partition had promised financial help to the Port Commissioners. The promises of Curzon materialised in the precise form of a grant of Rs 10,00,000 from the Imperial budget for the development of the port facilities (other than jetties, which were funded from railway development budget). Clamour for further grants from the Imperial budget continued unabated until 1910 when Rs 5,50,000 was made available - a sum which was quickly absorbed by the fast developing port.

The Government of the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam gave due importance to its principal port and matched their interest in and enthusiasm for the development of the port with substantial funds from their own resources. They made the following financial commitments in 1907: (a) Half the cost of revetment, from 1907 onwards, to a maximum of nine lakh in all (this upon an estimated total outlay of thirty lakh on revetments and dredger combined). Should the final total exceed thirty lakh then proposals for increased provincial aid would be favourably considered, (b) an annual provincial grant of up to Rs 59, 624 a year for five years to cover the operating costs of the dredger.

With the annulment of the partition the flow of government funds for the development of the port ceased. The growth of regular communications with places on the west side of the river Meghna slowed to a halt, the plans for seven jetties drawn up in 1906 were abandoned - no new jetty was built after the fourth one until 1947. Not until the creation of Pakistan in 1947 when Chittagong became the principal port of East Pakistan that renewed efforts were made to exploit its full potentials.

From 1971, the port of Chittagong again received the attention due to it as the principal port of the country. By June 1999 it is therefore found that the number of jetties had increased to 22.

Chittagong Port Management The Chittagong Port Authority is administered by a Board comprising of a Chairman and Four Members. The Chairman and Members are appointed by the government.

There are 15 Departments

Sanctioned Manpower 8655

Existing Manpower 5784

Reorganisation of manpower is under process due to introduction of modern equipment fleet.

Other than one Chairman (Chief Executive) the Port authority has four Executive departments under four executive heads. They are as follows:

Member- Engineering

Member- Harbour and Marine

Member- Finance

Member- Administration and Planning. Besides, it has a separate department for traffic and security.

The port of Chittagong has a yard, which is 45, 539 square metre and a container holding capacity of 1, 000 TEUS. It has a fleet of tugs with a maximum of 2250 BHP and hopper dredger with a capacity of 2,500 cubic metre. Till June 1999 the port was handling 12.5 million tons of cargo including one million tons of inland cargo per year.

The port has a dry dock that repairs ships of up to 16,500 DWT. Besides there are also a number of private repairing yards. To combat fire the Chittagong Port Authorities maintains a full-fledged fire fighting unit with modern equipment within the jetty premises and two vessels furnished with fire fighting equipment for marine fire. The sheds, warehouses and the yards are provided with sprinklers, hydrants with different kinds of fire extinguishers and fire buckets. The port is connected with the hinterland by road, rail and river.

Table 1  shows in tons the cargo handled at the port for every few years from 1946-47 to 2008-2009:

Year Import (m tons) Export (m tons)
1946-47 1,55,907 87,177
1950-51 4,26,431 12,68,600
1963-64 5,63,483 32,97,790
1970-71 37,55,100 4,11,844
1974-75 42,40,616 2,57,924
1980-81 49,35,936 5,38,933
1994-95 89,28,514 13,54,360
1996-97 91,17,259 14,36,990
1998-99 1,22,05,906 16,97,362
2003-04 19413460 2458972
2004-05 22989122 2895769
2005-06 23936103 3089550
2006-07 24236261 3392974
2007-08 24492707 3704862
2008-09 26718834 3763747

Source Chittagong Port Authority, 2010.

Table 2  shows the total cargo handling at the port of Chittagong including, inland ICD.

Fiscal year Import (m tons) Export (m tons) Inland (m tons) ICD (m tons) Grand Total (m tons)
1997-98 95,59,699 15,26,731 10,40,463 2,58,008 1,2384901
1998-99 1,22,05,906 16,97,362 9,65,060 3,17,193 1,5185521
2004-05 22989122 2895769 3200094 483440 29568425
2005-06 23936103 3089550 2633565 480439 30139657
2006-07 24236261 3392974 2677509 492644 30799388
2007-08 24492707 3704862 2518564 434628 31150761
2008-09 26718834 3763747 2830025 494525 38169124

Source Chittagong Port Authority, 2010.

Table  3 shows the number of vessels handled at the port of Chittagong.

Fiscal Nos. of vessels
1994-95 1360
1995-96 1409
1996-97 1482
1997-98 1389
1998-99 1425
2003-04 1764
2004-05 1892
2005-06 1957
2006-07 1945
2007-08 2099
2008-09 2167

Source  Chittagong Port Authority, 2010.

Table 4  Statistics of earnings and expenditure of the Chittagong Port (2000-2009).

Fiscal year Earn (Tk in Crore) Expenditure (Tk in crore) Surplus
2000-2001 477.01 302.29 174.72
2001-2002 531.37 351.01 180.36
2002-2003 530.66 373.75 156.91
2003-04 557.36 325.60 231.76
2004-05 649.78 319.65 330.13
2005-06 741.13 376.11 365.02
2006-2007 830.02 451.26 378.76
2007-2008 1057.04 447.16 609.88
2008-2009 1126.78 502.66 624.32

Source  Chittagong Port Authority, 2010.

The major exports of the port of Chittagong are jute and jute products, hides and skins, tea, naphtha, molasses, frozen fish, shrimps, garments and fertiliser. The main imports are food grain, cement, petroleum, sugar, salt, fertiliser, general cargo, iron materials and chemicals.

Development projects of the Chittagong Port

A. Recently Completed Projects

Construction of a Container Terminal at New-Mooring area of Chittagong Port. (Completed in 2008);

IDA funded Feasibility study for construction of one new ICD near Dhirasram Railway Station in Gazipur District (Completed in 2007);

ADB funded Port Efficiency Improvement Project (PEIP). (Completed in September 2008).

Techno-Economic Feasibility Study for Deep Sea Port in Bangladesh (Completed in June 2009).

B. Ongoing Projects (2011)

ADB Funded Chittagong Port Trade Facilitation Project (CPA Component) (Estimated Cost : Tk. 13000.00 Lakh);

Construction of Backup facilities behind berth no. 4 and 5 of New-Mooring Container Terminal (NCT) (Estimated Cost: Tk 11448.00 Lakh);

Capital dredging and Bank Protection Work with jetty facilities in Karnaphuli River from 3rd Karnaphuli Bridge to Sadarghat jetty (Estimated Cost: 37634.22);

Appointment of Private Global Terminal operator for operation and management of New-Mooring Container Terminal (NCT) on SOT basis;

Construction of one ICT at Pangaon (Estimated Cost: Tk 17757.00 lakh);

Introduction of Personnel Management Information System (PMIS);

Installation of VTMIS. (Estimated cost: 4500.00 lakh);

Shifting and Reconstruction of Service Jetty located near Dock office to upstream of Jetty No, 1 within Chittagong Port restricted area (Estimated cost: 6300.00 lakh);

Construction of one Multistoried vehicle parking shed for 5,500 units (Estimated Cost: 5000.00 lakh);

Replacement of River Mooring no. 3 and 4 by Dolphin Jetty (Estimated cost: 6000.00 lakh).

C. Future Projects

Construction of one Truck Terminal within the vicinity of port area;

Construction of a modern hospital;

Construction of multistoried Vehicle parking shed;

Construction of Patenga Container Terminal (PCT) outside the port protected area of Chittagong Port;

Construction a connecting road between CEPZ square and Baro Pole.

Decision had been taken that all projects will be concluded in a short, middle and long term duration.

To increase the efficiency and the quality of works, the CPA rescheduled the working time of workers. Work shifts have been organized to 03 per day instead of previous 02; this allows for round the clock operation, 24 hours a day for 363 days a year (except two Eid days).

To Reduction of Container Congestion Some new system had been introduced. They are, Delivery of certain items outside the port, Removal of empty containers to 'Off Docks', Introduction of 'green Channel' Fixed cut off time of arrival for export containers

Besides, All paper formalities to clear port dues are now done under one roof and any transfer of money is done electronically.

Three berths of New Mooring Container Terminal (NCT) were brought into operation in Feb 07, this increased container holding capacity from 16,400 to 23,191 TEUs. A private operator has been appointed for integrated single point operation of Chittagong Container Terminal (CCT) since March 07, which has resulted in reduction of cargo handling cost by 30%. Presently, 32 trade unions, including 05 from CPA, operate in port. Currently there is no trade union activity in port and productivity is uninterrupted. [Shireen Hasan Osmany and Muhammad Abdul Mazid]