A cargo lighter carrying 775 metric tons of coal has capsized in the Pasur River in the Sundarbans, in the sixth such environmental disaster in the last three-and-a-half years.
MV Bilash began sinking after 3am yesterday in the Harbaria Channel near the Mongla River Port.
Mongla Port Harbour Master Commander Oli Ullah, said Jashore-bound MV Bilash hit a hidden shoal around 10pm. When tide began falling the vessel tanked and gradually sank.
“Sailors on board were able to swim to the shore,” he said.
Mongla Coast Guard and the rescue vessel Shib Shah went to the spot and picked up seven sailors.
“As per the rules, the owner of the ship will attempt to salvage the vessel first, and then it will come under the port authority's control,” he added.
Bilash was loaded up with coal brought from Indonesia, by the Liberian cargo ship Observator, down the channel.
The port's harbour department said traffic through the channel remains normal, and the lighter's owner company had begun to attempt marking and rescue of the vessel.
Till the filing of this report, the lighter is completely under water.
The owner of the coal is Sahara Enterprise in Chittagong. Sahara's Operation Manager Lalon Howlader filed a general diary at Mongla Police Station claiming the company had lost Tk1.16 crore.
MV Bilash's Cargo Master Farid Miah filed another general diary describing the accident.
Environmentalists have expressed grave concerns about the accident.
Save the Sundarbans Foundation Chairman Sheikh Faridul said: “This will seriously harm the marine life and biodiversity of the Sundarbans. The coal is usually used in brick kilns and it contains a high amount of sulfur, which can greatly damage the forest environment.”
Mahmudul Hasan, divisional forest officer (DFO) of Sundarbans East Zone, said the location of the vessel is very close to the Sundarbans.
The last time a cargo ship sank in the channels of the Sundarbans was in June 2017. MV Sheba was carrying 825 tons of slugged cement. Its bottom fell out in the Harbaria channel.
Before that, in March 2016, a ship capsized in the Shela River inside the forest with 1,235 tons of coal. It was around the same spot where an oil tanker capsized in December 2014 and spilled 350,000 litres of furnace oil into the waters there, in one of the biggest ecological catastrophes in Bangladesh's history.
In May 2015, MV Jabale Nur sank in the Bhola River carrying fertilizer. The same year a coal-carrying ship sank in the Pasur River.