A day-long nationwide strike called by Bangladesh's opposition parties last Tuesday (Nov. 16) dealt a fresh blow to the country's shipping sector, already hit by political unrest in the country, officials and traders said.
"Fifty ships including 11 carrying about 150,000 tons of foodgrains were stranded at berths and at the outer anchorages on Tuesday," said Mohsin Sarkar
, traffic director of Chittagong Port, which handles 80 percent of the country's exports and imports.
More than 10,000 tons of ready-made garments and frozen foods were awaiting export at the port on Tuesday, he said.
Sarkar said cargo handling has slowed and the maximum "stay time" for a ship has shot up to 15 days from earlier five days due to frequent strikes.
Twenty-nine more ships, six of them carrying foodgrains, were stranded at Bangladesh's only other port at Mongla, where casual workers have been on strike since Nov. 9 demanding permanent jobs, officials said.
Army soldiers were deployed at Mongla on Monday to head off possible violence by the striking workers, port officials said.
Some 50 days of strikes and many shorter work stoppages at ports have widely hampered the country's external trade over the last three-and-a-half years, they said.
Opposition parties led by former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia enforced the strikes trying to force her successor Sheikh Hasina
to resign and call parliamentary elections earlier than scheduled in 2001.
Hasina who was elected to power in June 1996 for a five-year period has rejected the demands.
Exporters May Lose Markets
Shippers said a vessel idling at a port had to incur extra operational costs between $5,000 and $8,000 per day.
"This might discourage the shippers to call at Bangladeshi ports," a shipping agent said.
"Such a decision may be forced upon us if the country continues to have more strikes over political issues," he said.
Besides, exporters would lose their markets and incur losses if they failed to deliver goods to overseas importers on time, one exporter said.
ready-made garments worth more than $4 billion annually, mostly to the U.S. and European Union countries. Bangladesh's total annual exports amount to about $5.5 billion.
"Missed shipment schedules will cost us the confidence of our buyers," said Zahur Ahmed, a freight forwarder of Seacom Shipping Limited.
"We fear there will be more strikes as the government and opposition seem adamant to retain or capture power," Kamaluddin Ahmed, president, Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said. - (Reuters)