If both the channels get too silted and are not maintained properly, the naval route may become blocked
Foisal, a passenger on the Kuakata 2 launch going from Dhaka to Barishal, got scared when his launch suddenly jolted and stopped on Sunday night.
When Foisal rushed out of his cabin in panic, he found that the launch had got stuck on a submerged char (sandbank) in the Miarchar channel.
It has become a regular feature on the Dhaka-Barishal naval route because of the submerged sandbanks and sunken cargo vessels.
On Thursday night MV Manami got stuck on a sandbank in Kaligonj channel, and the Sundarban launch scraped against it as the waterway is too narrow, according to the information of the launch offices.
Sand-laden cargo vessels, which do not have proper equipment to sail at night, also cause many accidents on this route, where launches and cargo vessels often scrape against each other.
"Many accidents may occur during the Eid rush if the Kaligonj and Miarchar channels are not re-dredged immediately," said Md Shamim Molla, master (captain) of Parabat launch.
If both the channels get too silted, and navigability is not maintained properly, the naval route may become blocked, he said, adding that the Miarchar channel has already become unusable because of a sunken cargo vessel and a hidden sandbank (char) there.
Earlier this month, a cargo vessel also sank in the Kaligonj channel and couldn't be salvaged.
Another cargo vessel sank in Miarchar in 2019, and that is still there, according to information from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), Barishal.
Moreover, a cargo vessel sank in the Kirtonkhola River in the Charbaria area around seven years ago, and that has not been salvaged yet.
Launch masters say that most of the major and minor accidents on the route occurred on the way from Miarchar to Charbaria.
"Both Miarchar and Kaligonj channels need massive dredging. The channels are dredged every winter, but the dredged sand is dumped near the excavated spots. That is why in the rainy season the sand refills the channels," said a captain of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC).
"The vessels now have to travel 20 to 25 kilometers more to use the Kaligonj channel instead of Miarchar. So each vessel needs 500-800 liters more fuel depending on its capacity," He added.
"Fatal accidents may occur any time if some action is not taken immediately," he said.
In 2019 at least 50 accidents occurred on the Dhaka-Barishal route, in which two people and an officer of the BIWTA were killed.
On June 13, 2017 an oil tanker hit the passenger launch Tasrif 1 on its way to Dhaka at Charbaria point leaving 12 people injured, according to naval police of Barishal.
In January 2019 the Sundarban 6 hit Adventure 9, which left one person dead and 10 injured.
Two people were killed and seven others were injured in January this year in a accident between MV Kirtonkhola and Farhan.
"We have to stop our launch services if Miarchar is not dredged quickly and properly," said Nijamuddin, owner of the Adventure launch.
To avoid accidents between vessels, the BIWTA has suspended the movement of goods-laden cargo vessels for seven days before and after Eid ul Adha.
The state minister of the ministry of shipping inspected the two spots on Saturday to take quick action, said Azmol Huda, deputy director of BIWTA, Barishal.
"The sunken cargo vessel at Kaligonj will be salvaged soon, when the current becomes less forceful there," he added.