Damage caused to Sundarbans may go up to Tk 500cr: BNP

Damage caused to Sundarbans may go up to Tk 500cr: BNP

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The BNP probe panel, formed to investigate the oil-tanker crash in Sundarbans’ Shela River spilling out huge oil, has said the damage done to the Sundarbans due to the government’s reluctance and lack of coordination after the crash may go up to Tk 500 crore.
Addressing a press conference at BNP chairperson’s Gulshan office on Friday, probe-body chief and BNP vice chairman Hafizuddin Ahmed said this while unveiling the findings of their weeklong probe into the oil-tanker crash and the subsequent effects on the biodiversity of the forest due to the oil spill.
BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and other probe body members were present at the press conference.
The seven-member probe body also alleged that the government did not take any effective step to contain the oil spill and salvage the crashed vessel even after 48 hours of the incident.The BNP probe team feared that the Sundarbans might face the long-term dangerous effects due to the spread of huge furnace oil. It also put forward six recommendations to deal with the disaster and save the mangrove forest.
Hafizuddin said they went to the spot December 22 and talked to the local people, people’s representatives and experts, monitored the overall activities of clean-up drive and assessed the environmental impacts of the incident.
Earlier on December 20, the party formed the seven-member committee, led by Hafizuddin Ahmed, also a former water resources minister, asking it to submit the report within a week.
The committee handed over a copy of probe findings to BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia on Wednesday night at her office, a day before their deadline.
The ‘OT Southern Star 7’, carrying some 3.57 lakh litres of furnace oil, sank in the river at Mrigmari under East Zone of the Sundarbans after being hit by a cargo vessel, ‘Total Cargo, on December 9, causing a serious threat to the existence of the mangrove forest and its natural resources due to the oil spill.
Hafizuddin said they have identified through their investigation that OT Southern Star 7 was originally a vessel to carry sand and stone which was later turned into an oil tanker.
He alleged that the vessel had neither capacity to carry oil nor had the fitness certificate. “It was carrying oil illegally through the unauthorised route due to the government’s unforgivable carelessness.”
“We think the oil tanker crash was an outcome of the government’s bad political activities. The owner of the vessel is a brother-in-law of a minister. It used to ply the unauthorised route illegally carrying oil through the different channels of the Sundarbans. So, the authorities’ negligence is the main reason behind the accident,” the BNP leader pointed out.
He said they did not see the movement of aquatic animals, including dolphins, and birds, insects, and other animals in and around the accident spot as those moved away from there due to the oil spill.
As the government has failed to take prompt steps to contain the oil spill, Hafizuddin alleged, it spread to different canals and waterways of the Sundarbans, badly affecting the flora and fauna of the mangrove forest
He said the manmade disaster that caused havoc on the biodiversity of the Sundarbans will also affect the livelihood of lakhs of people dependant on its the resources.
The BNP-probe team chief said they think the extent of damage caused by the disaster will go up to Tk 500 crore, although the environmentalists say the losses of the resources of the Sundarbans are irreparable that cannot be measured by money.
He said as local people termed mysterious the death of the master of OT Southern Star 7, a fair investigation is needed to carry out in this regard.
The probe body regretted that the Shipping Minister visited the spot three days after the incident while the Prime Minister talked about the matter six days later.
They said though the Prime Minister through a videoconferencing gave the divisional commissar various directions to tackle the disaster, they did not find execution of those.
The BNP-probe panel also said had members of the Navy and Coast Guard been engaged in tackling the situation, the damage could have been brought down.
They also alleged that local people who engaged in removing oil slicks are suffering from skin diseases. The physicians apprehended the skin diseases may be the cause of cancer.
Their recommendations include permanent shutting down of the Shela River and other waterways of the Sundarbans for all mode of vessels, immediate reopening of the Ghoshiakhali-Mongal channel and restoring its navigability by removing illegal dams on different canals, refraining from establishing red-class industries like coal-based thermal power plant and shipbreaking yard within 25 kms of the Sundarbans, ensuring exemplary punishment of those responsible for the oil tanker crash and realising compensation, intensifying patrol on the waterways and ensuring the safety of the mangrove forest and stopping illegal entrance into it and forming a autonomous authority to oversee the activities of government agencies relating to the Sundarbans and coordinate their works. – UNB

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