The long-awaited capital dredging of Karnaphuli River is likely to be completed in 2022.
Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) in association with Bangladesh Navy (BN) under a project worth Tk 2,420 million (Tk 242 crore) started the capital dredging of Karnaphuli in November.
However, dredging of the river, lifeline of the country's economy, is progressing very slowly now.
Dilly-dallying in the capital dredging is hampering navigation in the port channel which is affecting maritime trade, said traders, including importers and exporters.
Officials said only five to 10 per cent of the works have been completed.
Chairman of CPA Rear Admiral Zulfiqar Aziz said around four years will be needed to complete all works of the capital dredging.
"So works of capital dredging which was started in November last year is likely to be completed in 2022," he informed.
He said objects, including polythene, timbers and garbage in the water of Kranaphuli River is hampering the capital dredging.
Authorities have taken a step to remove timber from this part of the river and clean polythene and garbage from it to facilitate the dredging. But ridding polluted Karnaphuly of timber, polythene and garbage will take a considerable time.
"Now, we are taking measures to clean up the polythene and garbage from the water of Karnaphuli. So, 75 per cent more time will be needed for completing the capital dredging," said the CPA chief.
He said, "We have already set up the pipe layouts and presently continuing the cleaning activities. Later, we will increase the project time for completing the capital dredging."
"Bangladesh Navy is working for 4.2 million (42 lakh) cubic feet (cft) dredging and now, they are working to dredge from Sadarghat to Bakoliar Char area," he mentioned.
Project Director (Engineering) Saiful Islam said that dredgers, including Mikhail-1 and Shafir-1, and equipment have been imported from the Netherlands to carry out the dredging work at a cost of Tk 1,300 million (Tk 130 crore).
Of the dredgers and equipment, Mikhail-1 and Shafir-1 can dredge in 14 metres depth and throw the mud and garbage five kilometre away from the river through HDP pipes, he stated.
"The capital dredging of Karnaphuli will be completed within the next four years. We have built a house boat on the river where the staff and officers will stay. So, work will continue during the low tide every day," he added.
Chief Hydrographer of CPA M Arifur Rahman said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a commitment to the people of Chattogram for capital dredging of Karnaphuli to save the river as well as Chattogram sea port. "Following the commitment of the prime minister, CPA has started the capital dredging in last year," he added.
Secretary of CPA Mohammed Omar Faruk said: "The CPA is starting fresh capital dredging after long years. Bangladesh Navy is cooperating in this regard."
Expressing the hope that the capital dredging will end within the scheduled time, he said: "After completing the capital dredging, the navigational channels of Chattogram port will be smoother than now. The big ships can enter the jetties as the draft will be increased."
Member of Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Ministry of Shipping and former president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) and the Port Users Forum M A Latif, MP, said that Chattogram port is a natural harbour.
But due to the silt in Karnaphuli and port channel, the natural harbour is losing its navigability, he said.
Stressing that the capital dredging will have to be completed as soon as possible, he said: "The maintenance dredging is not enough to save the navigability of the Chattogram port as well as river Karnaphuli. So, the government has taken up the project of capital dredging to save the port and river Karnaphuli."
"The project should be completed as early as possible," said the lawmaker.
Before the dredging started, Karnaphuli was being silted day by day due to the lack of regular and capital dredging. Navigation in the channel of Chattogram port is being hampered due to the silt at the river mouth and the flow of the river is also hampered.
Sources said, the depth of the navigational channel of Karnaphuli has declined alarmingly particularly in dry season.
Sources said: "The CPA has been forced to reduce the draft of the berthing vessels to seven metres instead of 8.5 metres."
"The drafts of the berthing vessels have been reduced by 1.5 metres due to the decline in the depth of water in the river," they said.
The purchase committee of the shipping ministry approved the Tk 2.42 billion (Tk 242 crore) capital dredging project in December, 2017.
Sources said the CPA had undertaken the initiative for dredging the river upstream of the navigational channel of the port installations nearly 22 years back. The CPA had conducted several surveys in the area and found that the channel of the port was facing a danger of quickly losing its navigability.
The survey found that the silt in the upstream would impede the operational activities of the port severely.
Then the CPA submitted a project of capital dredging and river bank protection with jetty facilities in the river from Sadarghat jetty to the third Karnaphuli Bridge.
It may be mentioned that the CPA project got approval in 2005 and the same project had been approved by the purchase committee of the ministry on March 3, 2011.
The committee selected Malaysian firm, Malaysia Dredging Corporation for the capital dredging.
Accordingly, the CPA gave a Notification of Award (NOA) to the Malaysia Dredging Corporation. But the company could not complete the capital dredging within stipulated time.
After the long years of dilly-dallying and pause in work of the project, the CPA finally took the decision to complete the project within the next four years.