BIWTA running few launches to ease sufferings, unloading of 11.50lakh tons of imported goods halted at Chittagong river port
River communications across the country came to a halt on Saturday as water transport workers went for an indefinite strike across Bangladesh since midnight, causing immense sufferings to the commuters, and hampering business activities.
Although a few vessels reportedly left the Sadarghat terminal in Dhaka last morning, commuters in Chandpur, Barisal, Bhola, Patuakhali, Pirojpur, Bhandaria, Jhalakathi, and other districts suffered the consequences of the indefinite strike called by Bangladesh Water Transport Workers Federation (BWTWF) to press home their 11-point demand.
The workers' demands include implementation of wage scale 2016, issuance of identity cards, service books, appointment letters, providing risk allowance, stopping extortion, and ensuring clean water, and food.
Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) managed some water vessels which made trips in the morning despite the ongoing work abstention of water transport workers.
Thirty vessels left Dhaka Sadarghat with nearly two thousand passengers, according to BIWTA sources.
Passengers had to wait for long hours to board the vessels, and some launches had to make extra trips to meet the huge demand.
Operation of lighterage vessels were also suspended at Chittagong river port.
Shah Alam Bhuiyan, president of Bangladesh Water Transport Workers’ Federation said this is the third time they are going on strike to press for their demands.
“We’ve been forced to go on an indefinite strike since our demands are yet to be fulfilled,” he said.
In Chittagong, loading and unloading of imported goods to and from lighter vessels at 16 private jetties in the city's Sadarghat and Majhir Ghat areas remain suspended since early morning due to the work abstention of water transport workers.
The unloading operations from mother vessels anchored at the outer anchorage of Chittagong port will also be at stake if the strike continues further.
Water Transport Cell (WTC) coordinates the movement of 1,200 individually owned lighter ships in Chittagong and nearby areas.
As many as 30 mother vessels loaded with 11.50 lakh tons of different types of imported goods were lying idle at the outer anchorage of Chittagong port.
Moreover, several hundred vessels laden with different types of goods have remained stranded in different jetties of the river port.
WTC Joint Secretary Ataul Kabir Ranju told Dhaka Tribune that the unloading operations were halted due to the work abstention program.
The WTC official said: “Offloading from mother vessels has been halted at the outer anchorage of Chittagong port. Besides, unloading at 16 private jetties of Karnaphuli River has also been disrupted.
"Vessels laden with different types of goods like wheat, maize, fertilizer, coal, and stone are lying idle at different jetties because of the strike."
Business owners fear the cost of doing business may go up due to the disruption in unloading of consumer goods and raw materials.
"The port will face container and vessel congestion, and the economy will have to bear the brunt if the deadlock continues," said Mahbub Chowdhury, vice president of Chittagong Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
In Khulna, the work abstention program has also disrupted the loading and unloading of cargo from ships in Mongla. Cargo ships, coasters, and tankers remained docked in the port on Saturday.
A total of 26 vessels carrying fertilizers, gas, and clinkers are at the jetty, said Commander Fakhr Uddin Ahmed, Mongla Port Authority's harbour master.
Khulna Water Transport Workers' Federation General Secretary Delwar Hossain said: "We will continue the protest until our 11-point demand is met."
A passenger, Ajmol Hossain, said: "I was on the way home to Koyra upazila, but now I have to go back with my family, as the launch service has been halted."
A transport worker, Imran Hossain, said: "I can finally have some time to relax as I often have to be travelling on launch for work."
In Barisal, operations of all kinds of passenger and cargo carrying vessels on all river routes remain halted due to the strike.
Passengers were scrambling for alternative transportation due to the strike. Some people are completing short-distance commutes on trawlers paying extra fares.
"Vessels which left for Dhaka on Friday returned to the Barishal launch terminal early Saturday. But none of those have undocked due to the workers' strike," said Azmal Huda Mithu, a BIWTA official in Barisal.
In Chandpur, launch services from the district to Dhaka, Narayganj, Barishal, and Shariyatpur have stalled much to the dismay of passengers. Passenger vessels depart Chandpur for different destinations at 6am everyday. But not a single launch left the jetty on Saturday.
Saiful, a patient from Lakshmipur, said: "I was on my way to Dhaka for treatment, but now I have reached Chandpur to find that all launch routes have been closed down.
"I have no idea how I will reach Dhaka now."
Dhaka-Chandpur Bogdadia Launch owner's representative Biplob Sarker said: "None of the launch staff are present, for which no launch has left Chandpur. However, Bogdadia and Sonartori launch left Dhaka port for Chandpur."
Chandpur port officer Abdur Razzak said: "No launch staff came to work. Though some launch owners were trying to start the service, it was not possible as none of the staff were present."
Our Correspondents Anwar Hussain, Chittagong; Hedait Hossain Molla, Khulna; Anisur Rahman Swapan, Barisal; Ibrahim Rony, Chandpur; Tanjil Hasan, Munshiganj; Rajib Basu, Patuakhali contributed to this story