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The off-docks at Chittagong have stopped handling the containers of Maersk Line, OOCL and Gold Star Line, as part of a dispute over fees.

Since Wednesday morning, the depots have provided no service to these shipping lines, which have a 20%-25% market share in transporting export cargo.

In January, the depots raised fees by nearly 22%, a rise the shipping lines did not accept and they have paid no bills since then, according to the Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA).

“They owe over $2.5m to the 18 off-docks,” BICDA secretary Ruhul Amin Sikder, told The Loadstar. “Moreover, they are not accepting our bills. How we can provide services to them?”

He added: “We will resume services for them only after they make the payment.”

Mr Sikder said South Korean Hanjin Shipping, declared bankrupt in 2017, still owes $3.5m, while another line owes $2.95m.

“What will happen if these lines also stop business here, due to coronavirus? How we will be able to recover the money?” he asked.

He said the depots set fees in line with a report by the Chittagong Port Authority. The majority of outbound containers are handled by the Chittagong-based off-docks. Cargo reaches the depots from factories mainly by truck and covered van and are stuffed in containers.

They are then sent to port jetties to board feeder vessels bound for hub ports in Singapore, Colombo and Port Klang to be reloaded on mother vessels for final destinations.

“The deadlock will disrupt our exports severely,” said Selim Hossain, a Dhaka-based garment exporter, who believes the depots should not have raised the fees without consensus with shippers.

“When the country’s exports are facing disruption due to the coronavirus epidemic, and continue declining, we can’t pay increased fees.

“The depots should resume the services immediately and government needs to intervene before the trade faces a further blow,” Mr Hossain added.

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