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The United National is concerned about the oil spill in the Sundarbans, following the sinking of a tanker there. A high-powered team may come to Bangladesh soon to assess the damage this accident has caused to the Sundarbans.

On Tuesday, Southern Star-7, the tanker carrying furnace oil, collided with another cargo vessel and sunk. The forest department yesterday filed cases against the owners of the two vessels, asking for one billion taka in compensation. Abul Kalam Azad, forest department officer of the Chandpai east zone range, filed the case with the Mongla police station.

Till yesterday, however, no steps were taken to salvage the vessel or clear the oil to bring the pollution under control. A vessel, Kandari-10, started off from Chittagong Port yesterday afternoon to bring the pollution under control. The vessel is due to arrive at the accident site on Thursday morning.

The forest department has said that the vessel was carrying about 350 thousand litres of furnace oil which, after the capsize, has spread around 70 kms on either side of the site While the environmental experts and the forest officials were demanding the river route be closed in fear of disaster, the commercial vessels continued to ply up and down the river there.

The government has formed a three-member committee to look into the incident of the tanker accident. The forest department has also formed a three-member committee. Belayet Hossain, Chandpai range assistant forest conservator, heads the committee. The committee has been asked to determine the reason behind the accident and to assess the damage done to biodiversity and the environment and to drawn up a report in this regard. In the meantime, after inspecting the area in the afternoon, deputy minister for environment and forest Abdullah Al Islam directly blamed BIWTA for the accident. He said, the accident had occurred because BIWTA continued to allow vessels to use this route despite being told not to. He feels that this accident has brought irreparable damage to the Sundarbans, He said that firm measures would be taken to stop this route from being used. Chief Forest Conservator was agreed with the minister about closing down the river route.

The place where the oil has spilled is a sanctuary for dolphins. This place is declared by UNESCO to be world a heritage site and by the UN to be important wetlands of the world. According to these two UN bodies, vessels should not be allowed to ply in the Sundarbans.

The forest department has repeatedly requested that the Sundarbans not be used for this river route. Similar requests were made by the US wetlands organisation Ramsar, and UNESCO.

Pauline Tamesis, country director in UNDP in Bangladesh, issued a written statement saying that the UN has requested the government Bangladesh again to stop vessels from plying commercially though the Sundarbans. This is destructive to the bio-diversity.

Pauline Tamesis said that there were two endangered species of dolphin, the Ganges and the Irrawardy dolphin, in the area where the oil spill occurred, along with many other animals. The Sundarbans was a UNESCO-declared world heritage site. That was why the UN was concerned at this accident.

Inquiry committee: The government has formed a three-member committee to look into the accident and it to submit its report within 15 days. Shipping minister Shahjahan Khan informed reporters about the matter at a press conference in the secretariat.

The committee's convenor is Captain Giasuddin Ahmed, the nautical surveyor and examiner of the sea transport directorate. The other two committee members are Golam Mainuddin Hasan, executive magistrate of the sea transport directorate and Mohammed Abu Zafar Miah, inspector of the sea transport directorate's Khulna inland vessel inspectorate.

Concern: Various quarters have expressed the concern about the accident, including the national committee to protect oil-gas-mineral resources, power and port; Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB); and, Paribesh Bachao Andolan.

Engineer Sheikh Muhammed Shahidullah, convenor of the national committee for oil- as-mineral resources, power and port and member secretary Prof Anu Muhammed said in a statement, the government remains silent on the importance of the Sundarbans and allows large vessels ply within the forest.

This accident is more than enough to point out just how important the Sundarbans are as a global heritage site and also just how unprotected the forest it. It shows how dangerous it is for oil, coal or toxic products to be transported through the rivers of the forest.

TIB's executive director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman told Prothom Alo, "This accidents gives some indication of just how risky it is to use this river route through the Sundarbans and also how dangerous it is to set up the Rampal power plan next to the forest. The government must immediately stop this river route and remove the Rampal power plant project from here, or else we will lose Sundarbans' status as a world heritage site and the forest itself will eventually be destroyed."

Paribesh Bachao Andolan has demanded that an expert committee be formed immediately to stop the oil from spreading rapidly. It will hold a human chain programme in this regard at 11am today at Shahbagh.

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