Mystery over the origin of imported bitumen!

Staff Correspondent

24th May, 2021 10:41:56 PM printer

Mystery over the origin of imported bitumen!

The label on the drum reads ‘Made in UAE'. Bulk volumes of such bitumen drums are brought to the country through cargo ships. The importers claim that the bitumen is ‘made in the UAE’.

But ironically, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not produce any bitumen, nor does it have any bitumen manufacturing plant.

It has been learnt that the bitumen ships anchor in Emirati seaports after loading the bitumen from Iran, a Middle Eastern country under economic sanctions. The bitumen actually comes from Iran, but the label changes in the port in the UAE.

After the ships anchors in the UAE, and process of adulterating the bitumen began immediately. Kerosene and other chemicals are usually mixed with the bitumen to adulterate the product.

After completing the rest of the formalities, the bitumen laden ships start their journey to different destinations including Bangladesh.

In the name of quality bitumen, millions of tonnes of low-quality and adulterated bitumen is entering the country through Chattogram port.

Despite the economic ban, nobody knows how Iran made bitumen is entering the country after changing the label in UAE.

Experts also said low-quality bitumen is entering the country through many techniques by using the ‘made in UAE’ tag. As a result, the country’s roads get damaged sooner than its expected time, wasting crores of public money.

Bitumen grade fixing committee chairman professor Dr Mohammad Zakaria said there are faults in the bitumen import process. He also opined to discourage the import of bitumen as there are chances of low-quality bitumen import.

Bitumen is the prime ingredient for road construction. The country imports 87 per cent of its total bitumen demand while state-owned Eastern Refinery produces the rest 13 per cent. Most of the bitumen used in Bangladesh’s roads is ‘made in UAE’.

In an investigation, it was found that UAE does not produce bitumen at all. Looking at the website of UAE-based bitumen export company Global Infinity General Trading FZE, it was found that the company is registered internationally under the name 'Galaxy Energy' since 2012.

Claiming as Dubai-based leading bitumen exporter, the company claims that they are producing around 200,000 tonnes of bitumen a year.

Contacted, the company’s sales expert and accounts managers Tina Taghavi shared detailed information on the bitumen quality, price and other information. The company sells 80/100-grade bitumen at around $170. 

Tina Tagabi also informed that there is no bitumen plant in UAE. Actually, the bitumen comes from Iran’s Al-Abbas port to UAE Jebel Ali Port. 

On Sunday (May 23), Tina Tagabi said their brand is registered in Dubai and their company also has offices in this city. All processes related to the sale, transaction and export of bitumen are completed in Dubai. The company also has a warehouse in the city. But they do not produce bitumen in the UAE.

The product comes from Iran. Only labelling is done in Dubai. To gain credibility, she showed a few LC documents under which they have already exported Iranian bitumen to Bangladesh. Tina even mentioned their business relationship with several organizations in Bangladesh. However, she declined to disclose the names of any organization.

This correspondent contacted an Iranian company on Monday. Isfahan Bitumen Production Company is located in the Sejzi Industrial Zone of Isfahan province in Iran. It has the capacity to produce about 2 lakh tonnes of bitumen per year.

A sales officer of the company said if any Bangladeshi importer wants to import bitumen from Iran, they will take care of the whole process. He said they are regularly exporting bitumen to different countries including Bangladesh. However, this cannot be done directly due to trade restrictions. So the company uses different ports of nearby UAE. For this, they have to liaise with various suppliers based in the UAE.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh consulate sources in the UAE have also confirmed that the country does not produce bitumen. Shipments of bitumen from neighbouring countries are refined after they enter the country. Then the process of re-exporting to different countries starts. According to consulate sources, refilling arrangements is available in Abu Dhabi, Al Hamriyah Free Zone, Fujairah and Ajman. Bitumen is shipped from UAE to different countries of the Indian subcontinent including Bangladesh through various processes.

Several expatriate workers working for a bitumen supplier in the UAE said “There is no bitumen factory or refineries in the UAE. Bitumen is smuggled into the UAE from Iran due to trade sanctions. That bitumen is being supplied to different countries using the name of the United Arab Emirates.”

To reduce the price other ingredients mixed with bitumen. Communication and bitumen experts believe that the quality of bitumen gets worse when it is exposed to air.

Bitumen grade determination committee president Prof Dr Mohammad Zakaria said if a bitumen drum is left on the side of a road, it will harden after a while. The value of bitumen will change when air enters. For this, it is best if the production can be increased in the country without bringing it from abroad.

He suggested that in order to build roads suitable for developed countries by 2041, import dependence should be reduced and local production of quality bitumen should be increased.

Dr Shamsul Hoque, a public transport expert and professor at the Department of Civil Engineering at BUET, said the country doesn’t have any control over bitumen import and information of the international market.

“Abu Dhabi-made bitumen has been spread across the country but the country doesn’t have any oil. That means such low-grade bitumen has been imported to Bangladesh from a third country,” he said.

“As the bitumen is traded through the third parties, so the country of origin cannot be identified. Due to these middlemen, the cost gets higher and the quality of bitumen is getting compromised,” he added.

Bitumen expert Dr Nazmus Sakib, also an assistant professor of the Islamic University of Technology, said bitumen is imported from UAE but no quality is being maintained.

“Basically, bitumen is imported from another country by using the label of UAE. It is impossible to know where the bitumen is procured. Anything can be written on the drum of bitumen, there is no chance to think that the UAE is the producer of bitumen. If we do not know the source of biological material, it is difficult to understand the quality of the product,” he added.

Analysts also say that condition of the roads has remained dilapidated as bitumen from unknown sources is entering the country without any testing and used mostly on roads.

Sources in the roads authorities concerned say tainted bitumen is the main problem of roads in the country and imported bitumen is the only source of low-standard bitumen products.

According to a report of the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC), imported bitumen used by the government and private firms is of low quality. 

The Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges has asked the authorities concerned to ensure the use of domestically produced thick bitumen instead of substandard imported bitumen.

Meanwhile, the government has taken several attempts to stop the import of low-quality bitumen. Even, the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC) had written a letter to the Governor of Bangladesh Bank to stop the import of low-quality bitumen.

Issuing a letter to all banks, Deputy General Manager of Bangladesh Bank Zakir Hossain Chowdhury has instructed banks so that no one can import, distribute and supply bitumen without a BERC license.

In a letter on September 9, 2014, the BERC secretary Habibur Rahman mentioned that it is mandatory to check the license of BERC when opening an LC for importing petroleum products.

But due to a lack of proper monitoring, the import of adulterated bitumen has not stopped yet.

More than four lakh tonnes of bitumen are imported per year and a huge amount of money is being laundered in the name of bitumen import.

At least Tk 14,000 crore has been laundered in the last 10 years in the name of bitumen import.