Saint Martin’s Island is at risk of losing around one million tourists this season due to a government ban on ferry journeys to the mainland in the wake of the Rohingya refugee crisis.
The ban followed revelations in a recent ministry-level crisis meeting that Myanmar border forces had opened fire on a number of Bangladeshi vessels as they passed through the Naf River en route to the island.
The meeting was chaired by Shipping Minister Shajahan Khana last Thursday and ended without a decision on the tourist crisis.
“The ban on ship traffic on the Teknaf-Saint Martin’s route has been in effect for the past two months,” Tour Operators Cox’s Bazar joint Convener Tofayel Ahmed told the Bangla Tribune. “We are at risk of losing more than a million tourists this season, while the ban is also affecting local businesses.”
He called for a dialogue between Border Guard Bangladesh and the Myanmar Border Police in order to restore ship traffic on the route.
The government usually allows ship traffic on the Teknaf-Saint Martin’s route during the peak tourist season of October 1 to March 15, when the seas are calmer.
However, as thousands of displaced Rohingya started pouring in from the Rakhine state, the movement of fishing trawlers and passenger services on this route was banned because of unrest along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
This ban severely affected the tourism industry in Saint Martin Island, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bangladesh.
“The Ministry of Shipping will take a decision regarding ship movement to Saint Martin’s Island after discussing the matter with the Ministry of Home Affairs,” Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) Chairman Commodore M Mozammel Haque told the Bangla Tribune. “Ship traffic will resume once the Home Ministry gives the clearance.”
The BIWTA chairman said that if the ban remains in effect for some time, ships could alternatively use the Cox’s Bazar Sadar or the Rezu Canal, as dredging work was recently completed there. Mozammel conceded, however, that ship owners are avoiding these alternatives because the journeys take more time.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune