Irrawaddy dolphin also at risk like the Gangetic dolphin

The coastal area of Bangladesh is the largest habitat of globally endangered Irwarrdy dolphin.IUCAN

Indian cruise ship MV Ganga Vilas reached Assam after staying in Bangladesh for 15 days. It entered Bangladesh through the Sundarbans border on 3 February. The ship left for India from the Chilmari port in Kurigram.

The Ganga Vilas embarked upon the voyage from India’s Baransi on 13 January. It will cross some 3,200 kilometres along 27 rivers up to Dibrugarh in Assam via Bangladesh in 51 days. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi inaugurated this private service. It is being considered as the longest river cruise in the world now.

However, the UK-based 'Guardian' published a report, “World’s longest river cruise could threaten endangered Ganges dolphin, warns experts” on the day of the inauguration of the luxury cruise.

The experts in Bangladesh say the Irrawaddy dolphins could also be at risk like the South Asian river dolphins due to the movement of MV Ganga Vilas.

The report says, the Kaithi village in Uttar Pradesh falls on the route of Ganga Vilas. The estuary of the Ganges and Gomti there is the abode of the endangered South Asian or Gangetic river dolphins.

Quoting Jagdish Krishnaswamy, an environment expert of Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Bengaluru, the report says, “The South Asian river dolphins almost can see nothing. They depend on echolocation clicks to move through the muddy water and collect foods. It will be hard for this endangered species to survive due to the sound pollution caused by increased movement of the cruise ship, cargo and motorised vessels."

An expert from Bangladesh says there are around 10,000 Irrawaddy dolphins in the entire world. Of them, some 8,000 reside in the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh.

The government has declared five areas of the Sundarbans as sanctuaries to protect the dolphin habitat. They are Dangmari, Chandpai, Dudhmukhi, Bhadra and part of Shibsa river. However, the Dangmari, Bhadra and Shibsa sanctuaries have fallen in the waterways that ply passenger ships between India and Bangladesh.

According to the Wildlife Protection Act-12, it is prohibited to do anything in the habitats of endangered species, which harms their natural movement and reproduction.

“The Sundarbans, now, is the last resort of the Irrawaddy dolphins. It is also the habitat of several other species, including the bottlenose and South Asian river dolphins. Therefore, the vessels, which ply under the Bangladesh-India waterways, should avoid the habitats of dolphins.

Four vessels in operation

Bangladesh and India signed the naval protection agreement for the expansion of business on naval routes. The official name of the agreement is ‘Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade Between Bangladesh and India’.

The passenger and cargo vessels are using the waterways of the two countries under this agreement.

Bangladesh and India signed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) over the movement of passenger vehicles. Indian cruise ship MV Ganga Vilas is running under this agreement. There are a total of four passenger vehicles operating under this agreement. Of these, three are Indian ships and one is operate by Bangladesh

The Ganga Vilas is 62 metres in length and 12 metres in width. It contains three decks and 28 luxurious cabins. There were 28 passengers on the maiden voyage -- 27 Swiss and one German. They visited at least 20 popular tourist attractions in Barishal, Dhaka, Narayanganj, Sirajganj, Tangail, Rangpu, Kurigram and the Sundarbans while in Bangladesh.

Speaking regarding this to Prothom Alo on Friday, state minister for shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said, “This river cruise will play a significant role to further strengthen the friendship between Bangladesh and India. The ship from Bangladesh will go to India in November. Bangladeshi tourists will also get the chance to visit remarkable places in India as well.”

He further said, “Bangladesh did not take any conservancy charge from the Indian cruise ship as India is financing the river excavation project in Bangladesh. However, it had to pay the fixed boarding fee in ports where it docked.”

The navigation policy for passenger vehicles can be found on the website of the Indian shipping ministry. According to that Bangladesh and India will have to charge the ships plying under this policy as domestic vessels, not as foreign ships. There are eight maritime routes under this policy. The concerned countries will have to maintain these maritime routes.

One Bangladeshi ship, two Indian ships

A Bangladeshi company named Journey Plus took the passengers of the Ganga Vilas to different tourist spots. Chief executive officer (CEO) of the company, Toufiq Rahman told Prothom Alo, “The tourists on the ship were impressed with the hospitality of Bangladesh. They wished to come back to Bangladesh again.”

Raj Singh, director of the river cruise said that the per-head cost of the cruise was around two million rupees, which is more than 2.5 million in BDT.

Earlier, a vessel of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) named MV Madhumati carried passengers to Kolkata in India. The highest fare of the ship was Tk 15,000 for the family suits. The fare for a normal cabin was Tk 1,500. There were some 120 passengers on the ship.

Another ship from Bangladesh is scheduled to visit India in November this year. India has also appealed for the permission for two more Indian ships to visit Bangladesh.

Rafiqul Islam, director of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said, “Two more Indian ships have applied to us for permission to come to Bangladesh. It is still under consideration.”