Shipping ministry will hold an inter-ministerial meeting on Wednesday to decide whether tourist ship would resume operations on Tekhnaf-Saint Martin’s route.
The tourist vessels remain suspended on the route for over three months due to navigability crisis and unrest along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
The shipping ministry has asked all the stakeholders to join the meeting.
The businesspersons maintain that the route should be reopened as soon as possible as they are incurring huge losses. They also threatened to launch movement if the authorities do not permit resuming the operation of ships.
Shipping ministry sources said the government would put the issue of tourists safety at the forefront. So the decision on resuming the route would be taken based on opinion from all quarters.
Sand bars (char) have emerged at different places of Naf river in Teknaf. Also, unrest in Myanmar makes the route risky. These are the reasons for suspension of the tourist ships on the route, said several officials of the shipping ministry.
The government is also considering opening a new route for the tourist ships from Teknaf’s Sabrang to Saint Martin’s.
Shipping ministry officials said the government would give permission to the new route if it does not permit resuming the old route from Teknaf to Saint Martin’s Island, one of largest tourist spots in Bangladesh.
Shipping ministry sources said the government would put the issue of tourists safety at the forefront. So the decision on resuming the route would be taken based on opinion from all quarters
The businesspersons, however, are against the new route at this moment as only two and half months are left of this peak tourist season. The ongoing season would pass before the new route is introduced. The businessmen would incur a huge loss if they can’t operate ships this season. That's why the businessmen demanded opening of the old route.
According to the shipping ministry, civil aviation and tourism ministry’s secretary Mokammel Hossain announced suspension of tourist ship operation on the route at a seminar in Cox’s Bazar on 29 September.
He mentioned Naf river’s navigability problem and emergence of chars on the river as the reasons of the decision that time.
Sea Cruise Operator Association of Bangladesh (SCOAB) and Tour Operators Association of Cox’s Bazar (TOAC) contacted the government high-ups with the demand of resumption of the route. As a result, the shipping ministry has called the meeting on Wednesday.
Representatives of all relevant ministries and departments, including the civil aviation and tourism ministry, environment, forest and climate change ministry, have been asked to attend the meeting.
We could know that the internal conflict in Myanmar has stopped. The ban on tourists from Bandarban has been lifted. Naf river’s navigability problem also does not exist anymore
Representatives of BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) and Coast Guard have also been asked to attend the meeting.
Shipping ministry’s secretary Mustafa Kamal will preside over the meeting while tourism secretary Mokammel Hossain will attend the meeting as co-chair.
Asked, additional secretary of shipping ministry Ferdous Alam told Prothom Alo that two agendas have been set for the meeting. One is - reviewing the possibility of resumption of tourist vessels on the Teknaf-Saint Martin’s route. The other agenda is exploring the feasibility of Sabrang-Saint Martin’s as an alternative route.
The decision will be taken based on the opinion of everyone present in the meeting, he added.
Although tourist ships are not going to the island from Teknaf, the ships are operating on Cox’s Bazar-Saint Martin’s route. Local sources said a total of 12 ships are now operating on Cox’s Bazar-Saint Martin’s and Chattogram-Saint Martin’s routes. On the Teknaf-Saint Martin’s route, 8-10 ships were operational before the ban.
SCOAB and TOAC from a joint press conference in last October demanded resumption of tourist vessel operations on the route. They also observed strike to press home the demand. But the government remains firm on its stance.
SCOAB president Tofail Ahmed told Prothom Alo, “We could know that the internal conflict in Myanmar has stopped. The ban on tourists visit to Bandarban has been lifted. Naf river’s navigability problem also does not exist anymore. So we demand the resumption of tourist vessels on Teknaf-Saint Martin’s route as soon as possible.”
Tofail threaten to launch movement if a ‘positive’ decision does not come from the inter-ministerial meeting Wednesday.
Asked if the government gives permission of the alternative route of Sabrang-Saint Martin’s, Tofail said, “There is no time to open new route. We applied for the new route in last October but they did not give permission at that time. Now the tourism season nearing the end. To open the new route, jetties will need to be built which will take a long time. Operation on Teknaf-Saint Martin’s route should be resumed right away considering our livelihood.”
* The report has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf