A cargo vessel in the Pasur River adjacent to the Sundarbans near Mongla Port. The vessel had almost 700 tons of coal in its hull when it capsized on the night of February 27 Dhaka Tribune

Sunken coals start releasing chemical compounds immediately, contaminating the water to the point that even after the cargo is lifted, the toxins remain

Repeated incidents of vessels capsizing while carrying coal and chemicals on the Sundarbans water routes have put the flora and fauna of the world’s largest mangrove forest at risk.

Last week, a cargo vessel carrying almost 700 tons of coal capsized in the Pasur River near Mongla port adjacent to the Sundarbans.

The ship, MV BB-1148, sank at Banishanta area in the Pasur channel, one kilometre south of the Mongla port, on the night of February 27.

The incident occurred when the ship carrying imported coal of Eastern Private Limited was on its way to Nawapara in Jessore district from the Harbaria area of Mongla port. Although the operation to salvage the sunken cargo was set to begin within 72 hours of the accident, neither the cargo authority nor the port authority has taken any steps in this regard.

Meanwhile, similar incidents occurring at regular intervals in close proximity to the Sundarbans is causing significant damage to aquatic life in the river and canal networks of the largest mangrove forest in the world.

Sunken coals start releasing chemical compounds immediately, contaminating the water to the point that the toxins remain even after the cargo is lifted, said an expert. 

Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, professor of environmental sciences at the Khulna University, said: “Coal contains high levels of lead, chromium, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, which are all highly toxic. Even a small amount of it will adversely affect aquatic animals like fish, which then will also affect humans and other animals when it is consumed. 

“Besides, the Harbaria area is a breeding ground for Irrawaddy dolphins. The animal can be affected when it comes in contact with coal-contaminated water. In addition, during the current crocodile breeding season, the eggs may not hatch properly [in the waters near the accident site]. So, this can affect the life cycle of dolphins and crocodiles. 

“These compounds will spread through water and degrade the quality of soil. Its effects will be long-term and far-reaching,” he added.

Meanwhile, regarding the operation to salvage the recently sunken coal, Rear Admiral Md Musa, chairman of the Mongla port authority, said the rescue operation would begin soon. “A rescue crane has been dispatched from Barisal.”

A total of eight commercial ships—one oil tanker, six vessels carrying coal and fertiliser, and a launch —sank in rivers running through the Sundarbans in five years from March 14, 2013 to April 14, 2018.

According to the Sundarbans East Zone, “MV Motahar” capsized on March 14, 2013 while “MV Shahidut” on November 24, 2014, “MV Southern Star 7” carrying furnace oil on December 9, 2014, “MV Jabalenoor” on May 5, 2015, “MV Zia Raj” on October 28, 2015, “MV Sea Horse 1” on March 19, 2016, “MV Aichgati” on January 13, 2017 and “MV Bilash” on April 14, 2018.

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