Various types of imported hazardous cargo, including chemical and other inflammable goods, have been lying around at the designated shed and yards of Chattogram Port for years -- posing the threat of fires and other accidents.
These unclaimed goods, imported between one to 28 years ago, haven't been auctioned off timely or destroyed by the customs authorities -- meaning the country's premier seaport is at risk of a deadly explosion like in Beirut port in Lebanon last week.
Though there have been no significant steps taken over the years regarding removal of these hazardous goods from the port, in the last few days, the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) has actively begun looking into the handling of these cargoes in order to avert such an incident.
In the latest move, on Sunday, CPA formed a six-member committee headed by its member (harbour and marine), Commodore Shafiul Bari, to assess the current condition of hazardous cargoes in the P-shed of the port.
Out of the 14 sheds in the port, P-shed is designated for storing dangerous and hazardous goods detected as per the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.
Usually, two categories of extremely hazardous goods are delivered from the port immediately after import. Other categories of hazardous goods are kept at the P-shed, from where those are then delivered. Additionally, containers carrying hazardous goods are also kept at the container yards.
According to CPA data, various types of chemical and hazardous goods -- which were imported between 1992 and 2019 -- are currently kept in around 55 pallets, 13 drums, and around 900 packages. The number of hazardous goods containers could not be found.
It is to be noted that a fire broke out at shed No 3 of the port on the afternoon of July 15 during which there was a small explosion, sources said.
Port users have urged safe management of such dangerous cargo to avert a potential devastating accident like the recent explosion at Beirut port.
The P-shed lacks modern management for storing hazardous goods for a long time, said Khairul Alam Sujan, director of Bangladesh Shipping Agents' Association (BSAA), adding that the port should not be a warehouse and the system of direct delivery from the port needs to be changed.
Importers need to get delivery of their imported goods within 30 days after the consignments are unloaded from ships at the port jetty. If they fail to get delivery within the 30-day period, the port authorities send the import documents of those consignments to the customs authorities which give notice to the importer.
And if the importer does not get delivery of the goods within 15 days of issuing of the notice, the customs authorities can auction those off.
However, this process is under several limitations both at the port end and at customs, said Customs Commissioner Fakhrul Alam. These include delays in holding auctions due to a shortage of manpower and failure to provide the correct documents and even when auctions are held, sometimes the value of the goods are not raised from bidders and so, cannot be sold legally, he added.
The committee -- which comprises two directors of CPA, two officials from Chattogram Customs House, and a representative from the Department of Environment, Chattogram -- has been asked to submit its report by seven working days.
It has also been asked to make a list of chemical and hazardous goods stored at the P-shed, determine the period of storage, and make a list of goods to be auctioned off or destroyed.
CPA Secretary Md Omar Faruk said the committee would also see whether there are proper safety and security arrangements to store dangerous goods at the P-shed and has been asked to recommend necessary measures.
It would also see whether existing law and regulations of different authorities including customs, port, explosive department, environment and other related offices regarding handling, storing and delivery of hazardous goods are adequate.