River vessels on at least 20 southern routes, including the one between Dhaka and Barishal, have been facing severe navigability problems over the last one month.
Larger vessels, especially passenger launches, are plying the routes amid the risk of serious accidents as water level at some points has receded to six to seven feet.
Frequent incidents of larger vessels running aground have been forcing drivers to slow down. As a result, larger launches on the Dhaka-Barishal route are sometimes reaching their destinations four to five hours late, said many passengers.
Zakir Hossain, manager of Sundarban Navigation Company, one of the largest passenger launch operators in the country, said, “We are facing navigability problems at Barishal river port and Miarchar point for the last two weeks.”
“We may have to stop operating on this route unless the navigability problem is solved,” he also said.
A launch driver of the operator, Motaleb Mia, said despite the fact that the navigability problem on the 20 routes in the southern region recurs every year during winter, necessary dredging of the waterways was not done for a long time.
Sources at Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said the situation on the Meghna river is worse at a number of points where larger vessels are sometimes getting stuck for hours. Those include Miarchar under Hijla upazila, Bheduria under Bhola, and Bhashanchar, Sreepur and Patarhat under Mehendiganj in Barishal.
Saidur Rahaman Rintu, vice president of Launch Owners Association, said launches on the Dhaka-Barishal route have to take a 40-km-long detour through Kaliganj -- thanks to the navigability problem.
He also alleged that vessels at Miarchar point are often getting stuck on submerged shoals created due to silt accumulated from previous dredging.
The river route between Patuakhali and Dhaka needs to be closed unless dredging is done in the Karkhana river immediately, said Mizanur Rahman, superintendent engineer of BIWTA dredging department.
Azmol Huda Mithu Sarkar, BIWTA's deputy director of marine safety and traffic department at Barishal river port, said the waterways in the region need to have a minimum depth of 12 feet for safe navigability and considering the poor navigability there, BIWTA will start dredging at 10 points within a month.