The government is not considering a permanent ban to the plying of riverine vessels through Shela river in the Sundarbans, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said today.
His comments came hours after suggestion by an inter-ministerial meeting for ban on use of the route through world’s largest mangrove forest in wake of oil spill through a huge area of the forest following an oil tanker capsize.
The prevailing temporary bar on the use of Shela river route is causing problems in the flow of commodities at Chittagong port, he said in a press briefing at his office.
The Shela river route was an alternative channel used by the water transports, in place of the Mongla-Ghasikhali route – to connect with the Chittagong port.
“The Mongla-Ghasiakhali channel is closed since 2004 for lack of navigability. Now, because Shela route is closed, vessels have to go around a 100 kilometres,” he said.
“We are trying to speed up dredging and bring back its navigability as soon as possible.”
In reply to query from reporters regarding the government’s priority, Shahjahan Khan said: “Sunarbans is important to us, but the need of the people comes first.”
Yesterday, the shipping minister faced drew flak on the social media for his comments that the oil spill in the Sundarbans “would harm the forest a little.”
An oil tanker, Southern Star-7, capsized in the Sundarbans on December 9, spilling over 56 thousand litres of furnace oil through a widespread area of the forest.
Today, nearly a week into the incident, an inter-ministerial meeting suggested maintaining the ban on use of the Shela river route for transportation, imposed recently after the oil spill.
After an inter-ministerial meeting, Abdullah Al Islam Jacob, junior minister for environment and forest, told reporters today that the government asked the shipping ministry to ban plying of any vessels through the Shela river route.
An inter-ministerial committee will be formed for the supervision of the overall progress of the clean-up of the Sundarbans.
Meanwhile, to encourage the locals for faster clean-up, Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) has hiked its buying price for the scooped up oil from Tk 30 to Tk 40 per litre.
BPC is currently buying oil at three points, which may be increased if needed, the inter-ministerial committee decided in its meeting today.