Speakers at a roundtable in Dhaka have called for making the river routes in Sundarbans off limits to ships carrying oil, chemical, coal and harmful materials in order to preserve the mangrove forest.
They expressed their concern over the incidents of ships capsizing in Sundarbans at the roundtable on 'Repeated Ship-Capsize, Unprotected Sundarbans and Rail Accident; Causes and Responsibilities' organized by green group POBA (Save the Environment Movement) at its office on Thursday.
POBA said at least 12 commercial ships carrying coal, oil and chemicals sank in the Sundarbans water routes from 1994 to 2018 and in the last five years 19 incidents of fire took place in the East Zone of the mangrove forest.
In 1994, a foreign oil tanker sank near Banisanta area of the forest and the oil spread over 20 kilometres radius severely affecting the aquatic creatures and trees as well. Two other ships capsized in 1998 and the eastern part of the forest was affected by the harmful chemicals and diesel.
According to the speakers, in 2014 three major incidents of ships sinking affected the same portion of the forest and the number of accidents rose to 12.
-- August 1994 Banisanta Oil carrying ship sank, affecting a 20km area
-- July 1, 1998, Near Mongla Cargo leaked, diesel spared around the area
-- August 10, 1998, Mazhar Point Clash with another oil tanker and oil spread in the area
-- September 30, 2014, Pashur Channel NV Nayon Shri 3 capsized with 600 tons of raw materials for cement
-- September 12, 2014, Pashur Channel NV Hazera 2 sank with 630 tons of raw materials for cement
-- November 24, 2014, Harintana Area Passenger launch sank leaving Tk50 crore loss of forest according to Forest Department
-- December 9, 2014, Shela River at Jaimanigol Tanker carrying over 357,000 litres of furnace oil sank. Oil spilled over into 45 miles along the river and 20 canals
-- October 27, 2015 Estuary of Shela and Pashur rivers MV Zia Raj sank with 510 tons of coal
-- April 5, 2015, Sharankhola Range MV Jabalenoor sank with 500 tons of Muriate of Potash
-- March 19, 2016, Shela River MV Sea Horse sank with 1,235 tons of coal
-- January 13, 2017, Hironpoint MV Aichgati with 1,000 tons of coal
-- April 14, 2018, Sundarbans MV Bilash with 775 tons of coal
While discussing, BARCIK researcher Pavel Partho said, frequent accidents are seriously harming the flora and fauna and putting total eco-system at risk as well as breaking the food-cycle in the world's largest mangrove forest, also the largest harbour of Irrawaddy dolphin.
He said the eastern side of the forest has been declared as a World Heritage Site and the frequent incidents of fire and ship capsize are putting the heritage site in great danger.
Partho also feared that the river routes of Sundarbans will be busier with the start of Rampal Power Plant work, and the incidents of capsize might also increase.
POBA President Abu Naser Khan alleged that there might be unseen hands who are intentionally causing these occurrences for getting insurance money or trying to demolish the flourishing Mongla Sea Port.
He also demanded proper probe into the incidents to bring the culprits to book.
In the discussion, the speakers also raised the issue of mismanagement and lack of workforce in the rail sector, resulting in graft practices causing frequent rail accidents.
The speakers said at least 63% accidents were derailments and the main reason behind it is rail officials' irresponsibility.
They also said there are only 26,000 workers in the railways department. They asked for employing skilled workforce in railways to modernize the sector.