Bangladesh shipping firms suspend use of port, halting trade

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh, Sept 2, 2006 (AFP) – Bangladesh’s trade shipments ground to a virtual halt Saturday as shipping firms refused to use the nation’s main port in a protest over container fees. “Most of the private shipping companies have today (Saturday) suspended transporting cargoes to and from Chittagong port,” Chittagong Port Authority chairman Shahadat Hossain said.

The companies, which have organised themselves as the Chittagong Feeder Trade Committee (CFTC), took the move after the High Court stayed a 130 dollar surcharge they imposed in June on every six-metre-long (20 foot) container transported by the ships.

The companies said the surcharge was to recover costs from “huge” congestion at the port.

“The ruling made all of us angry. We imposed the surcharge because we were bleeding red due to congestion at Chittagong Port,” Shahed Chowdhury, a representative of the shipping companies, said.

“Our ships today have not loaded any export cargo from Chittagong. Simultaneously, no import cargo bound for Chittagong Port is being loaded at ports in Singapore, Colombo and Klang,” he said.

All but one company — HRC, the largest Bangladeshi-owned shipping company with 10 ships