Under the leadership of Rear Admiral Mohammad Musa, Chairman of Mongla Port Authority, the port has achieved its highest ever anchoring of 970 foreign ships in one fiscal year. The admiral shares the key success factors and future prospects of the port.
Mongla port witnessed the anchoring of more than 970 foreign ships (the highest in its 70-year history) in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Considering the fact that the global supply chain is still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, how has this been possible?
Mongla port has been a national priority since the current government took over power in 2009. What was once about to be declared a dead port has now broken records and exceeded expectations in performance. The main reason behind the sporadic number of transactions happening in Mongla port had to do with the poor navigability of the channel, and consequently, the accessibility to the port. Since then, there have been several infrastructural developments that have placed Mongla port on par with global standards and expectations.
The port had 1 dredging operation in Pasur River. This was an outer bar dredging operation and was completed in December, 2020. I took over as Chairman of Mongla port on the 24th of January, 2021, which was right in the middle of the pandemic. After I took over, a second dredging operation began in March, 2021 for the inner bar. This dredging project is 23 kilometres long and is the biggest ever dredging operation in the Mongla area. We have completed 20% of the dredging operation so far, and are expecting completion by 2023. When the dredging is completed, ships with 9 to 10 metre drafts will be able to access the port.
The continual process of infrastructural improvements, efficient workflow, and a competent workforce has enabled Mongla port to achieve the amazing feat of anchoring more than 970 foreign ships – the highest in its 70-year history – during the time of the pandemic.
Since I took over as Chairman of Mongla port, I have ensured that the port continues to operate with the highest efficiency. My focus has been on utilising functional equipment. The typical operations of a port start with a ship coming into the harbour, unloading its cargo and containers, processing them, storing them in warehouses, clearing them through customs, and then sending them off to their destinations. My focus was on reducing the turnover time of this process. This can be achieved when an efficient management system is supported by high-quality equipment and operated by a workforce that is highly skilled with regular training. Since it is not feasible to suddenly outsource a large workforce, I focused on training my existing workforce to operate the equipment at Mongla port.
All of these have been possible due to the high priority that has been placed on Mongla port to remain functional throughout the pandemic. This is a strategic directive from the government to sustain the economy of the country. The continual process of infrastructural improvements, efficient workflow, and a competent workforce has enabled Mongla port to achieve the amazing feat of anchoring more than 970 foreign ships – the highest in its 70-year history – during the time of the pandemic.
Could you speak more to the infrastructure of Mongla Port that has contributed to the port’s aggregate efficiency and competency? Are there plans to upgrade the facilities further?
A key infrastructural improvement has been the installation of the Vessel Traffic Management Information System or VTMIS. This is a state-of-the-art information system and it allows remote traffic management of all the vessels coming in and going out of the channel. We have established 4 towers that are able to monitor the ships plying through 130 km of the channel. All the ship activities can be monitored from Mongla and Heron Point. This project was completed in December of 2021 and has been a significant contributor to improving the efficiency of Mongla port. Not only that; because of the VTMIS, we are able to ensure the safety of the vessels that are navigating through the channel, and also monitor whether all parties involved in port operations are complying with the rules and regulations prescribed by the International Maritime Organisation and the national authorities.
Unlike other ports, Mongla port is obliged to follow strict environmental regulations because it is located inside the Sundarbans. Protecting this world heritage site is an utmost priority of mine. We have started the tendering process for an oil spill management system that will allow us to follow MARPOL (Maritime Pollution Convention) and International Maritime Organisation regulations.
The materials and equipment to support the operations of the 3 mega projects in the country – Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Rampal Thermal Power Plant and Dhaka Metro Rail all come through Mongla port. It was therefore imperative to have the port active every single day, even during the pandemic, to ensure the continued work of these projects.
There are also plans to upgrade the facilities further, and also maintain existing facilities. For instance, the dredging operations of Mongla port are a continual process. It is imperative that Mongla port always remains operational as this is one of the strategic directives of the government. In order to ensure that, we have already started a capital dredging project in Parsu River, but my focus is also set on the future to continue to do maintenance dredging for 5 years. Maintenance dredging is necessary to ensure long term sustainability of the dredging operations, and for Mongla port to be able to give complete assurance that ships will always be able to access the channel.
We are also set to develop jetties, improve our facilities and procure new pieces of equipment that are capable of handling larger cargo at efficient rates. There are still around 60 pieces of old equipment that are in operation, but we already have 72 pieces of new equipment in the pipeline. 64 of them have already arrived at the port, and we are set to receive 3 more in the next 3 months. My vision is to transform Mongla into a smart and vibrant international seaport, making it the south-western economic gateway and a hub of regional connectivity.
Mongla Port’s edge over other ports in the country lies in its potential for regional connectivity. With major infrastructural projects (including Padma Bridge) nearing completion, what are the port’s prospects in enhancing connectivity and revenue generation in the coming years?
Mongla port has a very positive prospect with regards to regional connectivity. Connectivity with India, Nepal and Bhutan will all depend primarily on Mongla port. The road and rail network to these countries all connect to Mongla port. When Padma Bridge is inaugurated, which is expected to be in the middle of this year, the distance between Mongla and Dhaka will be 170 kilometres. Compared to Chittagong, which is 260 kilometres, Mongla port will be the closer destination. As such, investors, exporters, and importers are more interested in this port because of better logistical prospects.
You were appointed to the post during a period of rising COVID-19 infections that prompted a second government-mandated countrywide lockdown. How challenging was the experience for you? How would you assess the Bangladesh Government’s role in ensuring the continuation of trade throughout the pandemic?
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major challenge, but we have been able to overcome most of the obstacles by being proactive and diligent in taking necessary protective measures. Everyone entering the port, by land or sea, is screened and required to follow government instructed health regulations. The biggest obstacle was ensuring that all of the personnel at Mongla port were vaccinated. I took the case up to the government and the department of health, and within 3 months’ time, all the employees in the port were vaccinated.
The Government of Bangladesh ensured that the commercial sector of Bangladesh was kept active throughout the pandemic. Mongla port is the gateway of the south-western sector of Bangladesh. The materials and equipment to support the operations of the 3 mega projects in the country – Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Rampal Thermal Power Plant and Dhaka Metro Rail all come through Mongla port. It was therefore imperative to have the port active every single day, even during the pandemic, to ensure the continued work of these projects.
You have undertaken numerous roles throughout your illustrious career. How would you define your style of leadership?
In the last 36 years, I have served in the military, or navy, where I have commanded warships, bases, held staff appointments such as Director of Naval Headquarters, served as a UN observer, and have represented the country in various international forums. Being appointed as the Chairman of Mongla port is an opportunity for me to directly contribute to the growth and prosperity of the economy of our country. However, the style of serving as a military leader is different from that of the chairman of Mongla port. My style of leadership as the Chairman must take into account not only managing the port personnel, but also the various stakeholders of Mongla Port. There are more than 30 LPG and cement factories, an EPZ, a growing network of roadworks, the Khan Jahan Ali Airport which is being developed very close to Mongla port and the 20+ organisations who are working on Blue Economy. To ensure ease of doing business for all the users and stakeholders of the port, I emphasise on the quality and timely completion of ongoing development projects, automation of services, and creating a skilled workforce. My leadership style is therefore oriented towards making seaborne trade more functional, smart, eco-friendly, cost-effective, and welcoming to international trade by realising the long-term vision of not only the port but of the entire economy.