Even after four days, there is no salvage effort yet for MV Bilash, a cargo lighter that capsized in the Sundarbans’ Pasur River on April 15, carrying 775 metric tons of coal.
Experts suspect chemical contaminants present in the coal have already spread throughout the river and the forest near Harbaria Channel.
The recent capsize of this cargo vessel is the sixth such environmental disaster in the last three-and-a-half years.
Operation Manager Lalon Hawladar of Sahara Enterprise, the company that owns the vessel, told this reporter: “We are making a serious effort to salvage the sunken coal and cargo from the vessel.”
“However, we are yet to begin the salvage operation. We are optimistic that we will be able start working on Thursday (April 19).”
Sundarbans at risk
Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, Professor of Environmental Science at Khulna University said: “Coal has a high amount of lead, chromium, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic.”
“These elements are highly dangerous to animals and plants. Even a small amount could harm aquatic animals.”
He continued: “Ingesting contaminated fish would also be harmful to human beings. These highly toxic contaminants will bring down soil and water quality in the area.”
“Contaminated water and soil are known to cause long term damage to the germination process and embryos. Spilled fuel oil also acts as a harmful contaminant.”
Meanwhile, Md Shaheen Kabir, Chandpai Range forest officer of the Sundarbans confirmed he has submitted a primary probe report regarding damage to aquatic animals and biodiversity in Harbaria Channel, that can be caused by the sunken cargo ship carrying coal.
Addressing the matter, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Eastern Sundarbans Division, Md Mahmud Hasan, said: “No efforts have been made to salvage the cargo vessel as of Wednesday 4:30pm.”
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“The Forest Department has deployed a team on the scene of the accident for 24 hour updates on the situation.”
He added: “The extent of damage is yet to be assessed by the authorities, despite the submission of a probe report by a Forest Department official.”
Sources from the department revealed that water samples from the scene of the vessel capsize have been collected to evaluate water quality.
Chairman of Save the Sundarbans Foundation, Dr Sheikh Faridul Islam, pointed out that the sinking of a cargo vessel carrying coal in the Sundarbans will certainly cause damage to aquatic animals and biodiversity.
He further said: “This type of coal, which is used as fuel in brick kilns, contains a high amount of sulfur. The vessels also carry fuel and mobil (engine oil). These elements cause severe damage to the environment.”
“The movement of cargo vessels will increase in the Sundarbans after the Rampal Thermal Power Plant becomes operational. So, these types of accidents could increase in the future.”
Commander Oli Ullah, harbour master of Mongla Port said: “The owner company of the sunken cargo vessel is preparing to send two salvage ships. First, the coal will be salvaged from the bottom of the river, and then the vessel will be salvaged.”
Following the cargo vessel capsize on April 15, three general diaries were filed at the Mongla police station.
The Mongla Port harbour authorities also sent a letter to the owner company, giving it a deadline of 15 days to complete the salvage operation.