Container ship Songa Cheetah is set to arrive at Chattogram port on Saturday and leave for Italy’s Porto di Ravenna on Monday on the first direct commercial freight trip from Bangladesh to Europe, bdnews24.com reports.
Seen as the opening of a new door to boost Bangladesh’s apparel exports to its biggest market, the voyage is expected to put an end to lengthy and costly transportation of goods.
Currently, Bangladeshi businesses send their products to Europe from Chattogram via ports in other regions on the way. The exporters need to wait for a long time to book ships from those ports that increases the time and cost of shipping.
With faster and cheaper delivery, more European buyers are expected to be interested in ordering readymade garments from Bangladesh. Countries in other regions, such as the US, may also be keen to opt for direct shipping from Bangladesh.
Rear Admiral M Shahjahan, chairman of Chattogram Port Authority, said they will give Songa Cheetah direct berthing facility so that it will not have to wait longer. The authorities will also prioritise technical and administrative support for the ship.
Rif Line, an Italian logistics company and its associate Kalypso Compagnia di Navigazione SPA Italy initiated the trip after several European buyers expressed eagerness in direct Bangladesh-Italy shipping.
Another ship, Cape Flores, arrived in Bangladesh directly from Italy with empty containers on a trial run last month. Songa Cheetah and Cape Flores will continue freight operation on the route from now on.
Mohammad Rashed, chairman of the initiative’s local agent Reliance Shipping and Logistics Limited, said Songa Cheetah is expected to dock at Chattogram port on Saturday afternoon with 945 empty TEU (twenty feet equivalent unit) containers and seven containers with capital machinery.
It will leave on Monday with 983 TEU containers, 98 per cent of which will be used for garment export to Italy and some other European countries. It is expected to reach Italy after 16 days.
“The fares will be 35 to 40 per cent less than usual because of the direct voyage. Two ships will continue the service for now. More ships will be added if the initiative proves to be successful,” Rashed said.
A NEW HORIZON
Bangladesh has direct freight links with Singapore, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Klang and Tanjung Pelepas in Malaysia, and some of China’s ports.
Smaller vessels are used to carry containers to these ports as Chattogram port lacks navigability. From there, large ships take goods to Europe and other destinations.
Bangladeshi exporters struggled to send goods to Europe and the US amid a shipping and container crisis for months after the COVID-19 pandemic started ravaging the world.
The exporters counted losses due to extra shipping costs and time, said Khairul Alam, vice-president of Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association. He said he proposed direct shipping to Europe and the US in a meeting with garment exporters’ group BGMEA. “Many thought it was an unrealistic proposal.”
Now the direct freight service will save around $6,000 per 40 feet of goods, for which an exporter needed to pay $16,000, according to him.
“The buyers will be happy about two reasons now [saving of time and money]. It will strengthen Bangladesh’s position. New buyers will be interested in Bangladeshi products if they get these faster and cheaper,” Khairul said.
“This journey will not only export goods to Italy, but also open a new horizon for Bangladesh’s exports to Europe,” said Rakibul Alam Chowdhury, a vice-president of BGMEA.
The direct shipping service will reduce the time of delivery by 50 per cent on top of saving costs, he said. He believes other European countries, such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece and Spain, will begin taking goods directly from Bangladesh if the Chattogram-Ravenna trips become successful. “This will be fruitful if more and larger ships are pressed into service.”
Chattogram Port Authority Chairman Shahjahan said the voyage of Songa Cheetah will have a “groundbreaking effect” on Bangladesh’s economy. “Goods have been directly shipped from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong and China to Europe. I hope we’ll be able to continue this operation and save time and money.”