The prospect of direct container shipping from Chittagong Port to European destinations is widening as at least four more countries have expressed interest in directly transporting goods by sea from Chattogram to Europe.
After an Italian shipping company launched direct services between Chattogram and Italy earlier this month, Portugal, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Denmark have shown interest to follow suit.
Meanwhile, a new container vessel is expected to arrive at the port in the early weeks of March to take away export cargo to Italy.
Export cargo from the country has so far been transported to Europe, the US and other destinations through four regional transhipment ports, including Colombo and Singapore as well as Tanjung Pelepas and Port Klang of Malaysia and some ports in China, by connecting to bigger mother vessels.
As both the time and cost in transporting the country's exports in this manner is high, businesses have long been hoping for direct shipping services.
But the low draft in Chittagong Port that makes it difficult to accommodate big mother vessels remains the main obstacle to materialising their hopes.
However, an Italian freight forwarder, RifLine Worldwide Logistics Limited, with the help of its shipping concern Kalypso Compagnia di Navigazione SPA of Italy, has already launched direct services on the Italy-Chattogram route by deploying two smaller container vessels.
Under the service, Liberian flagged MV Songa Cheetah arrived here from the Italian port of Ravenna on February 5 and left two days later, taking away 952 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of export-laden containers.
M Shahjahan, chairman of the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA), told The Daily Star that through the shipping ministry, embassy officials of Portugal and Slovenia separately sought virtual meetings with the CPA to launch direct shipping services with Chittagong Port.
The chairman said they would discuss the issue in detail in the meeting.
Anne Van Leeuwen, the ambassador of the Netherlands to Bangladesh, made a courtesy call to the CPA chairman on February 16, when the latter proposed that the ambassador take initiative to launch direct shipping services between Chittagong Port and Rotterdam.
The port of Rotterdam is the largest seaport in Europe and connects to major destinations in the region.
Shahjahan said the ambassador took the proposal in a positive manner.
Shahjahan also informed that he gave the same proposal to Danish Ambassador Winnie Estrup Peterson during a meeting on February 14. Peterson lauded the recently introduced direct shipping service between Chattogram and Italy and ensured of her cooperation in this regard.
Meanwhile, Malta-flagged MV AST Malta is now on the route from China and is expected to arrive in Chattogram on March 2 to take some export cargoes to the Italian port of Ravenna.
The vessel is one of two vessels operated by RifLine Worldwide on its direct service between China and Ravenna.
Abul Kalam Azad, director of RifLine Worldwide Logistics Limited Bangladesh, an exclusive partner of RifLine, Italy, said MV AST Malta was actually on its way to Italy from China and planned to refuel in Colombo.
"But since around 31 TEUs of export containers could not be sent by Songa Cheetah on February 7, we planned to bring AST Malta here for refuelling at Chittagong Port and send those remaining containers," he added.
A total of 97 TEUs more export load containers are currently being kept ready at different off-docks to be shipped by Songa Cheetah, which will arrive in the third week of March.
Azad said they would be able to send the 97 TEUs through AST Malta as well.