Vol. 5 Num 263 Tue. February 22, 2005  
Front Page

BIWTA limps with two age-old salvage ships
200 sunken vessels pose threat to navigation

At least 200 vessels lie submerged on different riverbeds making waterways across the country potentially hazardous as BIWTA with only two salvage ships faces an uphill task to refloat the wrecks.

It will never be possible to lift the wrecks, if the government does not import more salvage vessels with higher lifting capacity, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) officials said. The authorities should immediately procure at least two salvage ships with not less than 300 tonnes of lifting capacity, they added.

The BIWTA officials said that at present there are only two rescue vessels named MV Rustam and MV Hamza. But with lifting capacity of only 60 tonnes they have become obsolete, as most of the vessels these days weigh between 800 and 1000 tonnes.

"Considering the long list of ferry disasters, it is believed that about 200 wrecks remain stuck underwater making different water routes dangerous for plying vessels," said Emdadul Haque, BIWTA Joint Director (Marine), Conservency and Pilotage Department.

For instance he said that a sand-laden ship had dashed against a submerged vessel at Katpotti point of the Meghna in Munshiganj in January this year.

Haque said that at least 10 wrecks lie aground in Chandpur alone.

"These make a huge silt deposit on the river beds causing a number of navigational hazards including ships going aground. Especially the whirls they create in the river water pose a serious threat to vessels' movement," he explained.

Against this backdrop, he stressed the importance of immediate import of salvage vessels with higher lifting power.

"Rustam and Hamza that were imported in 1963 and 1983 have become useless as most of the vessels now weigh above 500 tonnes."

He said the government is trying to import two salvage vessels of 250 tonnes lifting capacity from South Korea and the Netherlands.

A source in the shipping ministry said that salvage vessels would be imported under a mega project that would take at least three years' time.

"The project is now at the initial stage. It awaits the finance and planning ministry's approval," Taiubur Rahman, Joint Secretary (Administration) of the shipping ministry said.

He, however, could not say when is it going to have the finance and planning ministry's nod.

A high official of BIWTA on condition of anonymity said that BIWTA has long been trying to convince successive governments of the need for importing more powerful salvage vessels, but to no effect.

Within its limited capacity, BIWTA recently has taken possession of 39 submerged vessels in a move to rescue under the wreck rule 1973 and had invited tenders in this regard, he added.