Vital river route losing navigability
The Gabkhan channel, the only international river in the southern part of the country, is losing navigability, hampering river traffic on the Bangladesh-India, Chittagong-Mongla and Dhaka-Khulna routes.
Also known as the “Suez Khal of Jhalakathi”, the canal would impede trade under the Bangladesh-India protocol agreement on river traffic if it becomes shallower.
The 18-kilometre-long canal was excavated between 1912 and 1918 to link the Sugandha river in Jhalakathi and the Kocha and Sandhya rivers of Pirojpur, said Md Harunur Rashid, pilot inspector of BIWTA in Barisal. The canal reduces up to eight hours of journey time between.
He said the Indian vessels would not be able to enter Bangladesh through this canal if the canal lost navigability any further. Water depth of 13 to 16 feet was required for smooth traffic but the canal now has 10 to 12 feet of depth.
Sixty to 70 passenger or goods vessels used to ply this canal every day two years ago but now it is between 25 and 30 vessels, according to Jhalakathi signal office.
The canal was last dredged in 2006 and the entrance to the canal on the Sugandha was dredged in 2013, said Harun, adding that immediate dredging was required to keep the canal alive.
Vessels often run aground and get delayed on the canal every day, said Alamgir, manager of the Gabkhan river toll point. River traffic on this route was decreasing alarmingly.
During a recent visit to the canal, The Daily Star correspondent found five vessels anchored at the entrance to the canal at the Sugandha river end.
“The vessels are waiting for the high tide as the water level is very low and they cannot pass during low tide,” said Abul Khayer of the signal office there.
With the decline in the number of passing vessels, the government is also losing revenue from the canal as every vessel pays Tk 2,000 to Tk 4,000 based on their load capacity, said Md Shaheed Ullah, deputy director (port) of BIWTA, Barisal.
“This canal is very important for us as we can import goods directly from Haldia port in India to this district,” said Salahuddin Ahmed, president of Jhalakathi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
If the canal lost navigability, vessels heading for Chittagong, Barisal and Dhaka from Mongla, Khulna and India would have to use the sea, which would increase carrying costs, Salahuddin added.