30 cargo vessels stuck in Jamuna
At least 30 cargo vessels laden with fertiliser and coal, crucial supplies for the northern districts, are stranded in the river Jamuna near Shibalaya under Manikganj district due to poor navigability.
The vessels, stranded over the period of one week, were heading for Baghabari and Nagarbari river ports. The supply of these vital commodities is greatly hampered every year due to rapid siltation and lack of flow in the river and absence of timely dredging to keep the channel open.
The authority of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport, in charge of dredging rivers and the port officials blamed vessel operators for overloading their vessels to save transport costs.
“We can ensure a constant draft of up to seven feet but these vessels are invariably overloaded and therefore they require a minimum draft of ten feet, “ Chief Engineer (Dredging) of the (Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority) BIWTA Md Abdul Matin told The Daily Star. “The problem will not be solved until the cargo vessels maintain legal load of their cargo vessels,” he added.
Baghabari port officials said that MV Al-Bur, MV Mirza Bahar, MV Sajjid, MV Anabil, MV Queen of Agrajan and other cargo vessels loaded with fertiliser are stranded in Char-Shibaloy point near Aricha.
“Not seeing any solution some desperate suppliers are now using lighter vessels to transport the fertilisers to Baghabari and Nagarbari ports. This is costing them up to Tk 40,000 in excess,” Md Shafikul Islam Shafik, Baghabari port operator said. He however blamed poor dredging for the situation.
“The BIWTA is dredging the river but they are leaving the mud just beside the spot they are dredging and this is surely causing the navigability crisis again and again. If the situation continues you cannot avoid fertiliser crisis in the northern regions,” said Islam.
“As per rules we have cautioned the cargo vessels not to take 6.5 feet draft loads during the winter season. But most vessels violate the rules and carry 9 to 10 feet draft loads to minimise cost of transport.” Md Abdur Razzak, in charge of Baghabari port told The Daily Star.
Navigability becomes impossible at 12 points of the river Jamuna from mid-December every year, said Baghabari port officials. They said that on June 16 last year the port office, in a letter, informed the chief engineer (dredging) of BIWTA about the navigability problems and requested him to dredge the 12 overly silted points of the river for smooth movement of vessels.
The vulnerable points are Char Shibaloy, Char Safuria, Char Rafsha, New Vatiapara, Koitola, Awalbandh, Nakalia, Panchakola, Char Panchakola, Maladapara, Mohonganj and Baghabari Jetty point.
The chief engineer (dredging) denied that proper dredging was not done. “We have two standby dredgers in the Jamuna since November for conducting emergency dredging,” Matin said, “Since last week we have been dredging at Char Shibaloy to keep the channel open,” he added.
“Silt deposition in the Jamuna is phenomenally fast where a char (shoal) may appear within a matter of hours, so we cannot dredge in advance,” said the chief engineer of BIWTA explaining why he had kept two standby dredgers there. He added that five to seven vulnerable spots need dredging every year on the Baghabari route in the Jamuna.
Sudip Kumar of Baghabari fertiliser depot said that since this sort of incidents are recurring every year they have kept a stock of 9,000 tonnes of fertiliser in the depot.
“In January alone we need 21,000 tonnes of fertiliser for the Aman crop,” we are confident there will not be a crisis because the fertiliser suppliers are using smaller vessels to transport their merchandise,” Sudip Kumar said.