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Water vessels start plying thru’ Shela River route .‘It’s a violation of int’l convention’

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A Correspondent Khulna: The movement of water vessels through the Shela River began on Wednesday morning, barely one month after the Sundarbans’ oil-spill disaster, raising concern among environmentalists. Despite repeated pleas by environmental groups and conservation organizations to shut river routes of the Sundarbans, the government on Tuesday decided to temporally reopen the Shela River route to water vessels, apparently in the face of pressure by river transport workers. According to the Shipping Ministry’s decision, water vessels can ply the Shela River route until the completion of dredging work on the Mongla-Ghashiakhali channel, but no oil-laden ship will be allowed through the waterway. Criticizing the government decision, environmental activists said movement of water vessels through the river routes of the Sundarbans is direct violation of national laws and international conventions. Convener of Sundarbans Bachao Andolon (Khulna) Prof Abdul Mannan said water vessels cannot ply through the mangrove forest as the Sundarbans has been declared as a site of Ramsar Convection and a world heritage site. He said the government has reopened the Shela River route considering the interest of businesspeople, not that of general people and not even the environmental concern. Research coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society Farhana Akter said movement of water vessels through the Sundarbans’ rivers is not acceptable in any way. Sundarbans Academy director Abdul Halim said the government should take steps to stop the plying of water vessels on all the waterways of the mangrove forest aiming to cope with the adverse effects of recent oil spill and protect the Sundarbans from further environmental disaster. He suggested immediate dredging of the Mongla-Ghashiakhali channel, an alternative route to the Shela River one, and opening it for water vessels. UN experts on December 31, 2014 also recommended halting plying water vessels through the Sundarbans to avert further environmental disasters. On December 10, the government banned the plying of all kinds of vessels through the route until further notice due to an oil tanker crash in the river with some 3.57 lakh liters of furnace oil. On December 9, 2014, the oil tanker sank in the river at Joymonigol under the East Zone of the Sundarbans, threatening the wildlife in the UNESCO World Heritage site.