Shut down Sunderbans waterways

Probe body urges govt

Khadimul Islam and Quazi Amanullah

Yet another committee has recommended shutting down Sunderbans waterways for cargo vessels to protect biodiversity of the world’s largest mangrove forest as the shipping ministry continues to ignore previous recommendations and concerns of the United Nations and environmentalists.
The latest recommendation for stopping movement of water vessels was made in the investigation report into the incident of a cargo vessel MV GR Raj sinking with 510 tonnes of coal in the River Pashur on October 27 night, threatening the ecology and biodiversity of the forest.
‘Not only in the latest investigation report, we recommended twice this year in separate probe reports to ban any mechanised vessels carrying goods through Sunderbans,’ the conservator of forest of Khulna circle Sunil Kumar Kundu told New Age.
Sunil said he will formally receive the probe report on Sunday and then send it to the chief conservator of forest in Dhaka.
Assistant conservator of forests in-charge of Chandpai range Md Belayet Hossain, head of the probe body, submitted the report to the divisional forest officer Md Saidul Islam Thursday late night.
The probe body identified ‘incompetence and negligence on the part of the vessel’s cargo master and engine driver’ for causing the cargo with coal to capsize.
The probe body also recommended immediate recovery of the sunken vessel. The MV GR Raj, however, had not been salvaged till Thursday evening.
The latest incident is a repeat of the incident of another cargo vessel, Jebel-e-Nur, sinking at Morabhola in the Sunderbans, along with 670 tonnes of MOP fertilizer on May 5, and the sinking of another big cargo vessel with furnace oil last December.
The government probe body, forest department, environment ministry, United Nations and environmentalists recommended for shutting down Sunderbans waterways for cargo vessels after the capsize of OT Southern Seven in the river Shela, spilling 3.5 lakh litres of fuel oil.
The government initially declared the route closed for all vessels. But shipping minister Shajahan Khan had rejected an environment ministry recommendation to permanently close Shela River route at the time and reopened it to commercial traffic in January this year.
The shipping ministry on April 6 allowed oil-carrying vessels to use the route through Sunderbans without taking permission from the ministry of environment and forests.
A UN team of experts in December also suggested closing Sunderbans rivers to commercial traffic, after a joint inspection.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation known as UNESCO sent a letter to the Bangladesh government last year, saying that vessels using river route through the Sunderbans and the construction of the Rampal power plant could have critical consequences for this forest.
The UNESCO also warned that if the government fails to prevent this harm, the Sunderbans will lose its status as a world heritage site.
Several oil carrying vessels and dozens of other cargo vessel ply through Sunderbans river.
The latest probe report recommended that BIWTA and Mongla port authorities not allow any unfit vessel and incompetent master to run the cargo near rivers of Sunderbans.
Head of the probe body Md Belayet Hossain said they found the cargo vessel MV GR Raj and master of the vessel not capable of carrying a 510-tonne load.
Local businessmen said the government’s failure to reopen the Mongla-Ghasiakhali channel was responsible for cargoes using
the rivers through the Sunderbans.
The Sela River route was supposed to have stopped on June 1 after opening of the Mongla-Ghasiakhali channel.
Leaders of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports on Thursday called on the government to abandon the coal fired Rampal and Orion power plants in the vicinity of the Sunderbans.
Member secretary of the committee Anu Mohammad said that the Sunderbans would be severely affected if the two power plants are developed in Rampal, near the world’s largest mangrove forest and it would significantly harm the unique ecosystem, along with water, air, people and climate.

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