The government has decided to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from next April. The vessels carrying the LNG will anchor at the entrance of the Chattogram port, where Karnaphuli Fertiliser Company Limited (KAFCO) and Chattogram Urea Fertiliser Factory (CUFL) jetties are situated. This will squeeze the space on the port channel.
Almost 99 per cent of the container vessels, meant for export and import, use the port channel to enter or leave the port, but vessels carrying LNG create the risk of accidents.
Vessel movement will certainly slow down, as the ships have to be more cautious, and this will invariably lead to many vessels getting stranded.
This will harm the overall economy, said officials at the Chattogram port, Petrobangla and the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources.
Accelerate Energy Limited, a US-based company, is presently setting up a floating LNG terminal at Maheshkhali in Cox’s Bazar. The terminal will start supplying gas by the end of this year, providing 500 million cubic feet of gas per day. Local firm Summit is also setting up a floating terminal capable of supplying 500 million cubic feet of gas per day. They will start operations after six months.
The government still wants to import LNG in small vessels.
According to officials at the mineral resources division, Petrobangla will buy the gas from KAFCO and CUFL using their jetties. Till date, they only had their own ships in the jetties.
Commodore Zulfiker Aziz told Prothom Alo that the government had sought some information and they were providing it at the moment. But if they formally want a no objection certificate, a decision would be taken after experts conduct a study.
Petrobangla chairman Abul Mansur Md Faizullah told Prothom Alo, “I did not know if the movement of LNG ships would hamper activities at the port channel. The port should be able to say that. The port authorities have not issued an NOC yet, and I do not know why not.”
For transport through the port channel, ships have to cross 16 kilometres of the river Karnaphuli. Its navigability is only 600 metres, but ships can only use 250-300 metres. The part where the KAFCO and CUFL jetties are situated, it is 300 metres.
The LNG carrying ships will use the channel 230 days a year and at least 53 metres will go to those ships when they move. A distance of 150 metres has to be kept from any floating establishment, meaning the other ships will only have less than 100 metres to move.
In Singapore, there has to be at least 200 metre distance between two ships.
State minister for power, energy and mineral resources Nasrul Hamid confessed that once the LNG vessels have been docked at the jetties of the fertiliser factory, these will hamper the movement of vessels in the channel.
“Once two vessels have been docked at the LNG terminals at a time, the movement of the vessels at the port will be hampered.”
He also said a government organisation is surveying the matter to dig out details of the LNG installation.
Defending the LNG importation, the junior minister said the fertiliser factory facilities are being used to tackle the gas crisis in the Chattogram region. Preliminarily, the LNG will be supplied to Chattogram areas.
Chattogram seaport in dire straits
Documents suggest that those vessels which are now running on routes of the main seaport of the country are mostly old and decrepit. There are 79 container vessels regularly being used at the seaport. Of which, 23 are over 23 years old. There are also vessels dating back to 28 years. The port’s other cargo vessels are in the same condition.
According to the seaport authorities, approximately 16 freighters generally can arrive and depart the jetties at the port during the tide. More than 100 fishing trawlers and lighter vessels also use the port.
The seaport is still suffering from congestion, the authorities added.
On 21 April 2009, a lighter vessel submerged at the mouth of the port channel and it took 13 days to declare the port risk-free.
At present, if any incident forces the authorities to shut the port for two or three days, huge congestion is created at the port.
Statistics show such incidents in the channel are increasing every year. “The channel faced 12 accidents last year. The number was five in 2016.”
Former port chairman rear admiral (retired) Riaz Uddin Ahmed told Prothom Alo that the number of Navy and Coast Guard ships in the seaport is also on the rise. ‘But the breadth of the Karnafuli remains the same!’
“The installation of the LNG terminals will increase risk at the seaport. LNG is important for energy security, but it can be installed anywhere else other than on the Karnafuli,” he added.
One of the biggest users of the port is the garment industry. BGMEA’s port and nationalisation affairs committee president Nasir Uddin Chowdhury said as most of the exported and imported goods are being delivered through this port, so any kind of sensitive installation would not be reasonable.
“Any accident harming the channel will result in an economic crisis.”