Enhancing shipping connectivity between Chattogram and Colombo Ports

The Bangladesh High Commission to Sri Lanka organised in Colombo a stakeholders’ consultation forum on enhancing shipping connectivity between Chattogram and Colombo Ports on 29 June 2022 pursuant to observance of the First Economic Diplomacy Week. The event was joined by Sri Lanka Ports Authority terminal operators and the service providers such as feeder operators, freight forwarders, NVOCCs and shippers and from Bangladesh, members from the ports and shipping community and service providers joined the discussion online.

The purpose was to facilitate greater understanding of operational issues between Chattogram and Colombo Ports and ensure greater connectivity and supply chain security and stronger partnership between the two ports. Representatives from port authorities of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, terminal operators, main line operators, feeder operators, freight forwarders as well as users of the two ports presented their respective perspectives.

Bangladesh High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Tareq Md Ariful Islam in his opening remarks shared Bangladesh’s remarkable economic developments as the country achieves $ 50 billion exports in 2022 and the potential it holds for Colombo Port as a feeder nation. He also mentioned the changes in the global logistics operations due to the pandemic and now the war, the resultant trends in shipping and the necessity of offering possible incentives from Colombo Port. The High Commissioner was keen to build the relationship between the two maritime nations as his country climbed up the global economic rankings in multiple areas due to the correct policies adopted by his country.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) Chairman Dr. Prasantha Jayamanna briefed about the present facilities as well as ongoing and future expansion plan of Colombo Port which when completed in 2025-26, would increase their container handling capacity to 15 million TEUs. He announced that State-owned Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) of Colombo Port would extend priority berthing to Bangladesh feeder vessels. It may be mentioned that the Bangladesh High Commission has been pursuing this priority berthing issue with SLPA for a long period.

The SLPA Chairman said that the Bangladesh trade lane is an important customer for Sri Lanka and the port of Colombo was keen to facilitate Bangladesh shippers to be competitive when shipping west bound. Currently Colombo handles about 23% of Bangladesh transshipment cargo which has crossed the 700,000 TEU mark and has had a growth even during the pandemic.

The terminal operators and the feeder representatives said that they are keen to expand the services between the two countries as Sri Lanka gives four-five days transit advantage to the west bound shipments which is a significant advantage for the apparel trade of Bangladesh. It was also pointed out that recently there were media reports that were not accurate about delays, etc., in fact it was mentioned that port of Colombo has been one of the better ports in connectivity during the COVID period and continues to operate with maximum efficiency.

The Chairman of SLPA, private terminal operators and Sri Lankan shipping community at large assured of giving continued priority to Bangladesh users. Reporting on Colombo Port, they clarified that their port’s operation remains unaffected by the current crisis in the country. In this connection, both sides emphasised the importance of real time communication among all the stakeholders of the two countries.

Representative of the Chattogram Port Authority shared, inter alia, that Bangladesh’s container traffic through Colombo Port has increased significantly last year. Representatives of Bangladesh stakeholders shared the users’ perspective about Colombo Port, emerging trends, and challenges in shipping operations. The Chattogram Port Authority representative also indicated that there is potential to increase volumes and that this kind of bilateral discussions will help both sides for greater understanding.

The logistics and freight forwarders joining the discussions said that Sri Lanka also gives an advantage for air-sea and sea-air cargo from Bangladesh and if capacity is increased more business can be developed.

In the interactive session that followed, the panellists from both sides responded to the queries from the participants which cleared many of the issues involving Chattogram-Colombo connectivity. It was also decided that delegations of the industry should visit each other to strengthen the partnership and to offer solutions for the shippers from Bangladesh.

The networking event was appreciated by both sides. It was physically attended by many top/senior representatives from the Sri Lankan shipping community including the terminal operators Sri Lanka, Freight and Logistics Association, main line ship operators, Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), NVOCC and Sri Lanka Vessel Operators Association (SLAVO). From the Bangladesh side, Senior Executive Director of Karnaphuli Group and HR Lines Anis Ud Dowla, Head of Operation and Marketing of Mohammadi Group and Country Head, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka of DSV Logistics, Dhanusha Gunawardena joined online from Bangladesh.

The forum was facilitated by the Colombo International Maritime Conference Events (CIMC).