© Muhammad Amdad Hossain

Chittagong port authority (CPA) has wasted no time in issuing new directives to minimise risk after devastating fires from dangerous goods destroyed a container yard, killing 48 people and injuring hundreds more this month.

Chittagong still has some 2,064 teu of dangerous goods (DG) in containers in its yards and CPA has issued 17 directives or recommendations to port users, which include taking delivery of DG containers/cargo within three days of its arrival.

Last week, CPA, at a meeting with all stakeholders – exporters, importers, shipping agents, clearing and forwarding agents – also banned the movement of DG cargo in damaged containers and asked importers to confirm clearance with the Bangladesh Navy 24 hours before the cargo arrives.

The directives were issued ahead of a scheduled visit by a four-member team from the US Coast Guard, which will scrutinise the port’s compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) codes.

CPA also called on stakeholders to comply with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) codes, declare DG containers properly in the import general manifest and mark DG cargo with appropriate labels.

If a DG container arrives in Chittagong without proper markings, DG labels must be applied before it is unloaded at the port yard, said the authority, adding that outbound DG cargo should have standard packaging and be palletised, in line with the Dangerous Cargo Act 1953 and the IMDG codes.

In addition, a directive says the customs authority must examine DG containers as early as possible, to ensure quick delivery. If they require laboratory testing, the customs authority should send boxes to the importer’s premises.

And all DG cargo and perishable products must be auctioned if they are not delivered in time and, if needed, authorities should conduct spot bidding to free-up port yard space, the directives add.

The expectation is that the customs authority will auction at least 50 containers stored in the south container and overflow yards every day.

Meanwhile the order is that dangerous cargo that has been stored in P-shed and Bapex Yard for a long period will be destroyed in the next seven days.

The port authority also warns that if any importer brings cargo in with false declarations, the customs authority will take “severe action”, including banning importers from bringing in any goods in the future.

The port area will be declared as smoke-free zone and regular fire drills will be conducted in the DG yard, chemical shed and container freight stations. All gates at the port will remain open around the clock to facilitate the entrance and exit of vehicles.

Shippers, meanwhile, will be required to pay for the release of a box within a certain time period, or pay for extra dwell time, and could face penalties 10 times higher than normal storage charges.

Some containers carrying steel coils, already on trucks and trailers, have been stuck at the port for long periods because of customs delays. CPA has asked Customs to release the containers within two to three days and take bank guarantees against applicable duties. Otherwise, it said, it would charge port storage for the trucks or trailers at 10 times the normal amount.

CPA chairman Rear Admiral M Shahjahan called upon all stakeholders to follow the directives to save the country’s prime seaport from any possible danger, adding: “Any damage to port facilities will hamper export-import activities significantly and disrupt foreign currency and revenue earnings.” 

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