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Shela tanker capsize

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None of 5 warranted accused held yet  

A Correspondent

Bagerhat: None of the five warranted accused in the Shela River oil tanker capsize could be arrested yet even five weeks after a compensation suit filed for the disaster.

The Forest Department filed the Tk 100 crore compensation suit against the owners and staffs of the two vessels responsible for the oil tanker capsize.

Sources at Bagerhat court said Senior Judicial Magistrate Court-1 issued a warrant for arrest of the five people on December 17 after taking cognizance the charges against them.

The five warrant accused are owner of the sunken oil tanker ‘OT Southern Star 7’ Amir Hossain Farid, its supervisor Oliullah, and other employees--Abul Kalam of Rajapur village in Rupsha upazila of Khulna district, Shawkat Sheikh of Kamargram village in Alfadanga upazila of Faridpur district and Nayan of Rajapur area of Barisal city.

Eight people, including owner and staff of ‘OT Southern Star 7’ and the unidentified owner and staff of the other vessel ‘MT Total Cargo-1854’ were made accused in the case.

The court issued arrest warrant against five as the rest could not be identified.

The court also asked the other accused, whose names, father’s names and addresses could not be included in the case, to appear before it on February 19.

Police had seized the sunken oil tanker, ‘OT Southern Star 7’, from the Shela after it was pulled out from the river in the Sundarbans on December 10 while the ‘MT Total’ managed to get away.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the Sundarbans (East) M Amir Hossain Chowdhury said Forest Department lodged a general diary with Mongla Police Station on the day of incident and later, a case was filed with the Senior Judicial Magistrate Court in this connection, for the oil spill from the sunken tanker over a large area of the Sundarbans, threatening its flora and fauna, mainly the aquatic life.

Abul Kalam Azad, Chandpai Eastern range forest official, who lodged the compensation suit with Mongla Police Station, said no accused has been arrest till now.

The ‘OT Southern Star 7’ carrying some 3.57 lakh liters of furnace oil sank in the river at Migmari under East Zone of the Sundarbans after being hit by cargo vessel ‘MT Total’ at 5.00am on December 9.

After the crash, seven crewmembers managed to swim ashore while the body of master of the oil tanker, M Mokhlesur Rahman, was recovered several days after his going missing.

All 3.57 lakh litres of oil spilled out of the tanker into the river over an area extending up to 15 to 20 kilometers of the Shela.

The oil from the capsized vessel also spared to the mangrove forest and different canals and rivers that may wreck havoc on the forest and its wildlife and fish and other aquatic animals.

The government on December 10 banned the plying of all kinds of vessels through the river route of the Sundarbans until further notice.

The decision was taken as the oil tanker spilled some 3.57 lakh litres of oil over an area stretching up to 50 to 60 kilometers of the river.

On December 11, about 52 hours after its capsize, the sunken oil tanker was pulled out from the Shela.

A UN expert team on December 31 also recommended halting the plying of water vessels through the Sundarbans to avert further environmental disaster.

The team is supposed to submit a full report on the oil tanker capsize on January 15.

Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) had been using the Shela River for the last three years after Mongla-Ghashiakhali channel lost its navigability.

On January 7, movement of water vessels through the Shela began on Wednesday morning, barely one month after the Sundarbans' oil-spill disaster, raising concern among environmentalists.

Sources at Forest Department said vessel movement of the 31 kilometre long Mongla-Ghasiakhali international waterway, which flows on the Kumarkhali and Mongla rivers, had been closed for about four years due to lack of navigability of the rivers.

On April 28, 2011, vessel movement of the internal waterways, including Bangladesh-India international waterways, started through the Sundarbans as alternative route of Mongla-Ghasiakhali international waterways.

Environmentalists had long been calling upon the government to close the waterways through the Sundarbans as it may invite a potential environmental catastrophe.

In 2011, the Forest Division asked the BIWTA not to use the Sundarban waterways as UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 1997.

The government began dredging 22 kilometers of the Mongla-Ghasiakhali international waterway from July 1 last year, spending Tk 250 crore.

The dredging work of the waterways is expected to complete by June, the authorities concerned said.