For the last six to seven months, people of Noakhali's Hatia upazila have been suffering because vessels on the Dhaka-Hatia route get stuck for hours on the hidden shoals of the River Meghna.
Hatia is an isolated island of Noakhali with a population of around seven lakh. Its inhabitants have to use the waterways to travel to different parts of the country, including the district town.
People have to travel 27 kilometres of waterways, after travelling 50 kilometres on a land route, to reach Hatyia from the district town.
Thousands of people travel on the Dhaka-Hatyia, Chattogram-Hatia and Chairmanghat- Nalchira routes every day.
Of the waterways, the Dhaka-Hatia route is the most important one as a large number of passengers travel via this route.
Additionally, different products – including fish, rice and pulses – of Hatia are transported to and from different areas of the country through the route.
The traders are facing losses as the food products in the stranded vessels often rot.
The Hatia-bound, large, three-storey launches from Dhaka get stuck in the shoals.
The movement of small launches is also hindered for the same reason.
Currently, several large hidden shoals in Dalerchar area and Badhanarchar area on the Dhaka-Hatia route have become a headache for passengers and traders.
Two launches – MD Farhan and MD Tasfir – from Tamaroddi Ghat (terminal) in Hatia, leave for Dhaka at 12:30pm and 1pm, respectively; meanwhile, at 5:30pm and at 7pm, two other launches leave Sadarghat in Dhaka for Hatiya every day.
Shamimuzzaman, a trader of Hatia, has to go to Dhaka once or twice a week via the Dhaka-Hatia route for his business purpose.
If a launch starts from Sadarghat for Hatyia, it is supposed to reach Tamaroddi in six hours.
However, the launch authorities reach Tamaroddi ghat around 6am for the convenience of its passengers.
"However, if the launch gets stuck in the hidden shoals at night, it reaches the terminal at around 11am. Many passengers take trawlers to reach the terminal risking their life," said Shamimuzzaman.
Inspector of the launch Md Zahirul Islam said, "The route lacks the required depth of water. However, the vessels are plying in accordance with the tides. Often the launches get stuck in the hidden shoals and then they have to wait for high tide."
Haji Mohammad Ibrahim, president of Tamaroddi Market Business Association, said, Tamaroddi had become a big wholesale market as launches from Dhaka came to the terminal in Tamaroddi.
There are more than 50 warehouses at the market.
Retailers from different markets of the upazila buy products from these warehouses.
"But now, businessmen cannot deliver their products on time due to the delay in vessels arriving at the terminal," said Haji Mohammad Ibrahim.
In the middle of the last year, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) carried out dredging in different areas of River Meghna in Hatia.
However, they did it without consulting with the vessel owners, drivers and locals, who know better about the problem – such as where they face the problem most or where they need the dredging.
So after a month, hidden shoals appeared again, according to the vessel drivers and locals.
If BIWTA makes dredging arrangements in the river after consulting with the vessel drivers and locals, the problem will be solved quickly, claim those suffering.
According to BIWTA's dredging department, the authority has conducted a survey on the hidden shoals in Hatia.
The dredging in the areas requires the largest engine but the engine fell out of order during dredging work on Sandwip channel, adjacent to Hatyia.
Our correspondent tried to contact the chief engineer of BIWTA over the phone, several times, for his comment in this regard, but he did not respond to the calls.