“We have reopened the this crucial channel three days ago for vessels with draft as high as 14 feet which were previously required to use rivers and canals inside the Sundarbans,” Bangladesh Inland Water and Transport Authority’s (BIWTA) superintendent engineer Sayedur Rahman told newsmen at the scene.
He said silts deposited in the channel for years earlier turned the Mongla-Ghasiakhali channel unsuitable for movement of vessels forcing them to use the canals and rivers inside the world’s largest mangrove forest exposing it to environmental dangers.
“On completion of the dredging works now every day at least 50 to 70 cargo vessels of 6 to 8 feet draft and 40 to 60 vessels of 10 to 14 feet draft are using the 31-km waterways bypassing the Sundarbans,” a BIWTA spokesman said.
In two subsequent accidents in the Shela river in Sundarbans a furnace oil carrying tanker on December 9, 2014 and a coal laden vessel sank in next 15 days causing massive pollution and sparking global uproars.
The concerns visibly prompted authorities to initiate the task of expedited dredging the Mongla-Ghasiakhali channel to re-divert vessels while after initial dredging works BIWTA had first reopened the channel cargo vessels having 8 feet draft on May 6, 2015.
BIWTA officials, however, said they took a dredging project for 53 inland navigation routes at a cost of Taka 250 crore in early 2014.
They said as part of the project the authorities started dredging the Mongla -Ghasiakhali channel on July 1, 2014 though it was disrupted due to lack of necessary dredgers and inadequate manpower.
Sayedur Rahman said silts are quickly deposited in Mongla-Ghasiakhali channel in particular while under the project they would routinely work to keep it navigable so they could avoid the Shela River.
Cargo vessel owners were exposed to much trouble as the government suspended movement of all water transports on Shela River route until further notice due to the two accidents.
The oil tanker carrying around 3,57,668 liters of furnace oil was sunken into the Shela river in the Sundarbans on December 9, 2014 massively contaminating the waters in the canals in the forest.
A BSS correspondent who visited the channel on Wednesday saw nine dredgers were still digging the channel and were keeping the mud on the river banks through pipes as goods laden vessels were plying.
“Some 178.24 lakh cubic metre dredging work has been completed till October 2, 2016,” Khulna Divisional Commissioner M Abdus Samad told BSS.