Ayub Ali: Bulkheads are the riskiest means of transporting goods by sea. These vessels are known as ‘Volgate’ in common parlance. The bulkhead enters the Karnafuli river through the Chittagong port channel. At present, more than three hundred such illegal bulkheads of cargo used as an alternative to lighter ships are putting the port channel at risk.
The bulkheads are made in such a way that when loading the goods, the vessel almost sinks in the water. Especially when moving sand-filled bulkheads, it can’t be seen even from a little distance. Similarly, bulkheads carrying coal or rocks from outer vessels to mother vessels are traveling to different destinations of the country by sea. In particular, they travel to different destinations including Rajbari, Mirsarai, Kutubdia, Cox’s Bazar with stones.
He also unloaded stones at Sadarghat, Jute Rally and Gas Rally ghats through the port. Bulkheads are mostly used to carry construction materials for development works in different parts of the country including Maheshkhali Power Hub and Kutubdia.
On Wednesday morning, it was seen on the spot that stones were being unloaded from a bulkhead named ‘Al Mahadi’ on the south side of the Vellapara bridge on the Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar highway and loaded into a truck. For this, crane barges have been added on the banks of Shikalbaha canal. Stones are being unloaded directly from the bulkhead to the truck by the barge crane.
Speaking to locals, it is learned that the bulkhead was loaded from the mother vessel located at night.
It has been alleged that an influential syndicate involved in ship handling is unloading various commodities including coal and stones from Mother Vessel with illegal bulkheads. Again, the port authorities are only imposing fines in the name of cracking down on illegal bulkheads. However, port authorities say that using bulkheads as an alternative to lighterage is very risky. The port authorities are following the policy of ‘Zero tolerance’ in restricting the movement of these bulkheads to make the port channel safer.
According to local sources, sand traders around the Karnafuli river have been collecting and transporting sand by collecting illegal bulkheads from several southern districts including Munshiganj and Narayanganj. These bulkheads carry sand from Karnafuli river and carry sand in Shikalbaha canal, Vellapara, Murali canal, Sangu river, Chankhali canal, military pool area. For several years now, influential syndicates have been using these bulkheads to lighten bulk products like imported coal, stone and fertilizer.
According to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), these bulkheads have been being constructed in the southern part of the country, including Narayanganj, for a long time without any technical design. Those who are involved in building this ship have no formal education. The construction dockyards also do not have any valid permit documents. Even these ships have no wheels.
Talking about the risks of the channel in the port, Harbor Master of Chittagong Port Authority Captain Zahirul Islam told, “There is no approval of Chittagong port for bulkhead movement. C class (coastal) ships can ply in Chittagong port. M Class (Mother Vessel) ships can operate for a specified period of time. But the bulkheads pass through the port without any permission.
Moreover, there is no trained manpower in these bulkheads. These are damages to our (port) channel in the event of an accident at any time. If such an accident occurs in the middle of the channel, the port operations will be hampered, the experienced official said.
It is learned that an influential syndicate involved in ship handling has been using illegal bulkheads to lighten goods outside the port of Chittagong. The Chittagong Port Authority has not been able to stop the use of bulkheads even after holding meetings with all the parties concerned. Shipowners, ship handling operators, shipping agents, and others have been criticized after several bulkhead accidents in early 2021.
Despite meeting with Water Transport Cell (WTC) and lighter ship contractors, the Chittagong Port Authority and the Department of Shipping decided to take strict action to stop bulkhead movement, but due to mysterious reasons, no effective action has been taken by government agencies in the last one year. Mahbub Rashid Khan, executive director of the Water Transport Cell (WTC) told: “We have been harassed for talking about bulkheads. We don’t want to talk anymore. The port authorities can say a good thing about this.
However, another WTC official said, “There are currently more than 300 illegal bulkheads. These bulkheads are again unloading goods from the outer (outer anchor) day and night. Numerous bulkheads are anchored in the river Karnafuli during the day. The port authorities sometimes imposed a small fine on them. However, the operation of the port can be stopped only when a bulkhead dub. This could tarnish Bangladesh’s image in the international arena as well.
In this regard, Port Secretary Omar Farooq said, “DG Shipping (Department of Shipping) allows shipping at Bay Crossing.” They also gave a ban. However, illegal bulkhead movement is a big risk for port channels. That is why we request DG Shipping on behalf of the port not to allow such vessels. We do not have a system of mobile courts with our magistrates if unauthorized vessels or bulkheads pass through the port channel.
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