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PORT CITY PROFILE (Part 1 of 2): Chittagong, Bangladesh


PortandTerminal.com, July 10, 2019

CHITTAGONG – Bangladesh is booming. The country has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies with GDP growth of 7.9% in 2018/19 and is on Goldman Sachs’s list of the “Next 11” emerging economic powerhouses of the 21st century. 

In 2013 more than 380 people died when an eight-storey textile factory in Dhaka collapsed, Famous fashion brands like Benetton and Mango have been implicated in the disaster.

On the strength of the second-most dynamic textile industry on the planet, Bangladesh’s export sector is thriving and is expected to eclipse $50 billion per year in value by 2021. This is all in a country without adequate maritime infrastructure and rampant corruption.

In this article, we’ll look at Chittagong, home to Bangladesh’s largest port.


Bangladesh spent 15 years under military rule and, although democracy was restored in 1990, the political scene remains volatile. Islamist extremism has also been rising in the traditionally tolerant country.

Although a small country, Bangladesh is of clutch geopolitical importance, being located in the armpit of India and right on the Indian Ocean.

The Diplomat, Bangladesh’s Deep Sea Port Problem (2016)

Population pressure

Bangladesh packs a lot into a small area. The country is only slightly larger than Pennsylvania and New Jersey combined; slightly smaller than Iowa. Relative to other nations, Bangladesh is just slightly larger than Greece which has a population of 11 million people. Bangladesh’s population of 165 million is 15 times larger than Greece’s though. It’s a very crowded place to live in.

Bangladesh packs 165 million people into a very small country

Where all of those people are going to go as the country quickly loses land due to rising sea levels caused by global climate change is a serious problem. A three-foot rise in sea level would submerge almost 20 percent of the country and displace more than 30 million people

Some scientists project a five-to-six-foot sea level rise by 2100, which would displace perhaps 50 million people. For perspective, the ongoing tragedy in Syria has caused the exodus of approximately three million people. Bangladesh could easily eclipse that number when 50 million desperate people have nowhere to live.


Chittagong, Bangladesh

There’s really no nice way of putting this. Bangladesh is a squalid, corrupt place to do business in and that corruption has swept up Chittagong’s port as well.

“In Bangladesh, there is no alternative but to pay the additional amount (bribes) if service is to be availed.

From 2001 to 2005 Bangladesh was ranked as the worst country in the world for corruption, according to anti-graft campaigners Transparency International. Things have improved since then but only just. Bangladesh still ranks today within the top 20% of the world’s most corrupt countries.

The Port of Chittagong

Chittagong, Bangladesh is the country’s second largest city after the capital city Dhaka, with a total urban area population of at least 4 million people.

Chittagong is an ancient seaport due to its natural harbor. The Port of Chittagong is the principal maritime gateway to the country and is the busiest international seaport on the Bay of Bengal and the third busiest in South Asia.

In 2017/18 the port had cargo tonnage 23.5 million and container volume of 2.08 million teu which represented 90% of Bangladesh’s trade volume.

Bangladesh Navy recently received two Chinese-made Type C13B corvettes into its fleet

Chittagong is also the largest base of the Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Coast Guard.

Despite though its strategic importance within Bangladesh’s economy, the Port of Chittagong is a famously corrupt place to try and move cargo through.

How corrupt is it?

Photo: Main entrance of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Headquarter in Dhaka

In 2019 the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) identified 101 government sectors as being corrupt including the Chittagong Port Authority. In one example in 2017, police were forced to step in and arrest 3 Chittagong Port officials for misappropriating money.

In 2017 the ACC published the results of a stakeholder survey they had conducted into the state of corruption at the Port of Chittagong. Their findings were sobering.

“Harassed by all types of officials of the port and customs”

In the survey, stakeholders said that they were harassed by all types of officials of the port and customs, Sonali Bank (during payment of tax) and ‘unskilled’ forklift and crane operators. They alleged that they had to pay extra money, at every step from clearing documents to unloading of goods.

Because of slow customs service, corruption in berthing process, delay in physical and chemical test of goods, harassment by officials, lack of adequate manpower and machineries, including fork lift and cranes, stakeholders face problems in unloading their imported goods in time

Lots of water but none of it deep enough

The ports of Chittagong and Mongla are both too shallow for large container ships

Ironically for a port city that is as often flooded as Chittagong, the port itself has a problem with its water; theirs isn’t deep enough.

In its 45-year history as an independent state, Bangladesh has never built a new port. While $60 billion of annual trade currently pours through the country’s two existing seaports, Chittagong and Mongla, both are too shallow for large container ships and require costly load transfers to smaller vessels to get cargo in and out — an added step that can cost an additional $15,000 per day and severely decreases the ports’ global competitiveness (Source: The Diplomat: Bangladesh’s Deep Sea Port Problem).

Next: PORT CITY PROFILE (Part 2 of 2): Chittagong, Bangladesh

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